I have never lived in the US, nor am I an American citizen. One might think that this should be enough of a reason for me not to have to fill out FATCA-related forms.
My non-US bank has just given me a two month deadline to complete an 18-page document related to US FATCA requirements. It doesn’t matter that I don’t trade in US stocks nor hold US dollars in this account. I still must comply.
Imagine if every country in the world insisted on such a requirement from aliens who might have absolutely nothing to do with the US. You would be filling up FATCA-style documents for about 200 countries. Of course, you would be doing this in each of their languages, for the US insists that its must be filed in English. Only a government drowning in its perceived sense of exceptionalism would issue such demands on the rest of the world.
We’ve always talked about the importance of international diversification. My recent experience with my non-US bank reveals the importance of not only having your money in a foreign jurisdiction, but in a bank that does not have a branch in the US, a bank that stays away from the US and need not comply with any of the US heavy-handedness… perhaps one in China or Russia.
One must also think about international payment systems that the US is unable to control.
Look at your bank card. It is likely a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club, or Discover card.
These are America-headquartered companies and operate as payment processing systems, as either a debit card (deducting from your bank account immediately) or credit card (for settling the payment later).
These payment processors act as mediators between your bank and the bank on the other side of the transaction. Unfortunately, given that these card companies are American, not only are your transaction details easily accessible to the US government, but your debit/credit card can be frozen at a flip of a switch.
Recently Visa and MasterCard froze certain transactions originating in Russia in response to American economic sanctions in the aftermath of the crisis in Ukraine. I am not taking a side on who is right and who is wrong. The point is that you can get caught in the crossfire, through no fault of your own.
You must consider a non-American payment system—one that is not under the sway of the US government—irrespective of whether you’re American or not in order to diversify your political risk.
One that is increasingly used and now widely accepted is China UnionPay (CUP), which is an association of China’s banking card industry. CUP is the second-largest payment network in the world as measured by the value of transactions processed (Visa is #1).
CUP works just like any other debit or credit card anywhere it’s accepted, which currently is over 140 countries. Just look for the UnionPay symbol on ATMs or on store windows of merchants that accept it.
In order to insulate itself from American financial sanctions, Russia has recently turned to CUP as a temporary solution until it creates a Russian payment-processing network. That project is expected to take 2-3 years, but could present yet another alternative payment processor.
All of this highlights the importance of diversifying your finances outside the control of the US.
You would be right to follow suit and look to diversify your credit/debit card, particularly if you’re an American.
Obtaining a debit/credit card with China UnionPay is currently the best way to do just that.
Editor’s Note: To get a CUP card isn’t enough. In order to obtain the maximum diversification benefits, you should find an offshore bank that has no branches and no or minimum connections to your home country.
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Jayant Bhandari is constantly traveling the world to understand it and to look for investment opportunities, particularly in the natural resource sector. He advises institutional investors about his finds. He also runs a yearly seminar in Vancouver titled “Capitalism & Morality.” Find him at www.jayantbhandari.com.