Helping you prosper

Access to bank accounts now becoming ‘biggest barrier to international trade’ for UK

Publications featured in include: The Telegraph.

Overseas businesses wishing to trade in the UK are now routinely being turned down when seeking to open business bank accounts. Many banks appear to be very nervous about any potential compliance risks posed by businesses and are choosing to operate a blanket policy of refusing applications from overseas.

Reasons given by banks for not allowing a business to open an account seen in recent months by our team include:

  • The business not having staff present in the UK
  • Staff present in the UK not being sufficiently senior in the business
  • The mobile phone number used to register the bank account being a non-UK number
  • The business not being VAT-registered in the UK

The problem is not limited to small businesses that are difficult for banks to verify using their ‘Know Your Customer’ systems. One client, an Australian listed business with a significant annual turnover, has been turned down for a UK account by several banks despite it complying with all the governance requirements of the Australian Stock Exchange.

The problem has become noticeably worse since Brexit, with new requirements around import duties and VAT increasing the risk of compliance issues for overseas businesses selling in the UK. This has seen some banks reduce their tolerance for risk even further.

Clive Gawthorpe, partner in our Manchester office, comments: “Britain needs to attract overseas businesses to invest and grow here. Getting a UK bank account has become an unnecessarily big barrier for a huge number of businesses who want to do that.

It’s understandable that banks don’t want to take compliance risks but when listed businesses are being rejected for bank accounts, they have gone a step too far.

We would love to see the Government work with the banks to clear this blockage. As it stands, Britain is leaving economic growth, new jobs and increased tax revenues on the table by building needless trade barriers.”

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