Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Some Private Bankers Go To the Ballet

The wink-and-nod aspects of international private banking are going (yuck) public.
The Guardian has published extracts from Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World by Nicholas Shaxson, In the first installment we learn that really private bankers don't sit around waiting for money to come in seeking shelter:

My bank never once had a client walk through the door. The bankers and their clients go on big-game hunting trips, or to the ballet in Budapest. That is where it happens.

Wikileaks, not content with embarrassing U.S. diplomats and stirring up trouble in Tunesia, now threatens to release details of thousands of offshore accounts. The Swiss bank accounts belonged to more than 2,000 American, European and Asian individuals and multinational companies, according to former Swiss banker Rudolf Elmer. Among the seekers of shelter were politicians, business leaders, celebrities, organized crime leaders and "three major financial institutions."

Will all this unwelcome transparency make global private banking a duller business going forward? Maybe not. Remember the words of John Maynard Keynes:
The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward.
Marketing yacht loans and grantor retained annuity trusts doesn't exactly create an adrenalin rush. Sometimes I'm sorry the racy aspects of private banking are off limits.

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