The Bank of Ireland (BOI) has unveiled its plans to launch an offshore Internet banking service for UK and Irish nationals living and working abroad.
Called Fsharp and based in the Isle of Man, customers will be able to track their bank accounts, transfer funds, set up standing orders and invest in offshore funds in multiple currencies from a single place.
When the bank launches on 4 September there will be Fsharp branded credit cards to allow easy access to funds.
To improve the services reliability, Fsharp is using two ISPs to run the service. Telecom Eireann will provide primary connection, with Manx Direct on standby in case of outage from Tenet. In addition to email contact, Fsharp has a 24 hour, seven days a week call centre.
The company conducted research to determine the need for such a service and found an overwhelming desire among expatriates to be able to conduct their finances at their convenience instead of being at the mercy of different time zones around the world.
“We found 50 per cent of ex pats using offshore banking are dissatisfied with their current service,” said Tony O’Shea, general manager of Fsharp. “They are a community of people that don’t feel well served by their offshore banks. They need more contact and a more convenient service.”
The market is a significant one, with the research discovering there are 10 million expatriates across the world. Fsharp decided to focus on the 1.7 million English speaking ones with at least £15,000 of assets to invest assets, representing combined estimated deposits of £25 billion.
“Expatriates are usually cash rich and need advise on what to do with their money ready for when they move back,” said O’Shea. Fsharp is also offering offshore funds from Mercury Asset Management and receive tax advise from KPMG.
By giving such a wealthy market what they require from a banking service, Fsharp hopes to survive in the rapidly changing financial services industry. With expectations of 10,000 customers in the first year increasing to 50,000 in three years, it hopes to return a profit by 2002.
To help easily manage their finances, each customer is presented with a consolidated balance giving full details of the balances of all their accounts, and their funds, in any currency.
“The consolidated balance is a key benefit of Fsharp, no other bank does this,” said O’Shea. “People were telling us they wanted to know their net worth with us.”
The company said in the future it may extend its offerings to include mortgages and share dealing.
O’Shea emphasised the importance of running Fsharp as a completely separate business from the BOI, to allow it to develop its own culture away from the history and tradition of the banking industry.
"Banks and the Internet don’t go well together. Because of external regulation, banks have a cumbersome way of doing business. With Fsharp we want to break that cycle," he said.
However they haven’t done away with the BOI brand completely as O’Shea explained that expatriates are quite conservative and would only use a banking service they trust and so the BOI name was kept as an underwriter to give Fsharp prestige. Eventually the company expects Fsharp will be its own trust mark.
Fsharp said it has been careful to work with the industry’s regulators, as well as BOI’s own to ensure Fsharp will not become a haven for criminals wanting to launder money or evade taxes.
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