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Belgium

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Belgium has policies in place to facilitate the free flow of financial resources. Credit is allocated at market rates and is available to foreign and domestic investors without discrimination. Belgium is fully served by the international banking community and is implementing all relevant EU financial directives.  At the same time, Belgium currently ranks 60th out of 190 for “getting credit” on the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings, and in the bottom quintile among OECD high income countries.

Bruges established the world’s first stock market almost 600 years ago, and the Belgian bourse is well-established today.  On Euronext, a company may increase its capital either by capitalizing reserves or by issuing new shares. An increase in capital requires a legal registration procedure, and new shares may be offered either to the public or to existing shareholders.  A public notice is not required if the offer is to existing shareholders, who may subscribe to the new shares directly. An issue of bonds to the public is subject to the same requirements as a public issue of shares: the company’s capital must be entirely paid up, and existing shareholders must be given preferential subscription rights.

In 2016, the Belgian government passed legislation to improve entrepreneurial financing through crowdfunding and more flexible capital venture rules.

Money and Banking System

Because the Belgian economy is directed toward international trade, more than half of its banking activities involve foreign countries.  Belgium’s major banks are represented in the financial and commercial centers of dozens of countries by subsidiaries, branch offices, and representative offices.  The country does have a central bank, the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), whose governor is also a board member of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Belgium is one of the countries with the highest number of banks per capita in the world. The banking system is considered sound but was hard hit by the financial crisis that began in the fall of 2008, when federal and regional governments had to step in with lending and guarantees for the three largest banks. Following a review of the 2008 financial crisis, the Belgian government decided in 2012 to shift the authority of bank supervision from the Financial Market Supervision Authority (FMSA) to the NBB. In 2017, supervision of systemically important Belgian banks shifted to the ECB.  The country has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past 3 years, nor are there any correspondent banking relationships currently in jeopardy.

The developments since September 2008 have also resulted in a major de-risking of the Belgian banks’ balance sheets, on the back of a rising share of exposure to the public sector – albeit more concentrated on Belgium – and a gradual further expansion of the domestic mortgage loan portfolio. Since the introduction of the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), the vast majority of the Belgian banking sector’s assets are held by banks that come under SSM supervision, including the “significant institutions” KBC Bank, Belfius Bank, Argenta, AXA Bank Europe, Bank of New-York Mellon and Bank Degroof/Petercam. Other banks governed by Belgian law – such as BNP Paribas Fortis and ING Belgium – are also subject to SSM supervision as they are subsidiaries of non-Belgian “significant institutions.”

In 2018, the banking sector conducted its business in a context of gradual economic recovery and persistently low interest rates. That situation had two effects: it put pressure on the sector’s profitability and caused a credit default problem in some European banks. The National Bank of Belgium designated eight Belgian banks as domestic systemically important institutions, and divided them into two groups according to their level of importance. A 1.5 % capital surcharge was imposed on the first group (BNP Paribas Fortis, KBC Group and Belfius Bank).  The second group (AXA Bank Europe, Argenta, Euroclear and The Bank of New York Mellon) is required to hold a supplementary capital buffer of 0.75 %. These surcharges will be phased in over a three-year period.

Under pressure from the European Union, bank debt has decreased in volume overall, from close to 1.6 trillion euros in 2007 to just over 1 trillion euros in 2018, according to the National Bank of Belgium, particularly in the risky derivative markets.

Belgian banks use modern, automated systems for domestic and international transactions. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) has its headquarters in Brussels. Euroclear, a clearing entity for transactions in stocks and other securities, is also located in Brussels.

Opening a bank account in the country is linked to residency status.  FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) requires Belgian banks to report information on U.S. account holders directly to the Belgian tax authorities, who then release the information to the IRS.

Some Belgian banks have already made great progress with blockchain technology: for instance, one Belgian bank offers a product called MyCar, a digital ecosystem that connects all the players in a car purchase with blockchain technology, creating a single, trusted source of confidence and a centralized workflow that takes the hassle out of buying a car.

With regard to cryptocurrencies, the National Bank of Belgium has no central authority overseeing the network.

Unlike most other EU countries, there are no cryptocurrency ATMs, and the NBB has repeatedly warned about the potential consequences of the use of cryptocurrencies for financial stability.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Payments and transfers within Belgium and with foreign countries require no prior authorization. Transactions may be executed in euros as well as in other currencies.

Remittance Policies

Dividends may be remitted freely except in cases in which distribution would reduce net assets to less than paid-up capital. No further withholding tax or other tax is due on repatriation of the original investment or on the profits of a branch, either during active operations or upon the closing of the branch.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Belgium has a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) in the form of the Federal Holding and Investment Company, a quasi-independent entity created in 2004 and now mainly used as a vehicle to manage the banking assets which were taken on board during the 2008 banking crisis.  The SWF has a board whose members reflect the composition of the governing coalition and are regularly audited by the “Cour des Comptes” or national auditor. At the end of 2017, its total assets amounted to € 2.2 billion. Due to the origins of the fund, the majority of the funds are invested domestically. Its role is to allow public entities to recoup their investments and support Belgian banks.  The SWF is required by law to publish an annual report and is subject to the same domestic and international accounting standards and rules. The SWF routinely fulfills all legal obligations. However, it is not a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds, and as such not a subscriber to the Santiago Principles.

Denmark

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Denmark has fully liberalized foreign exchange flows, including those for direct and portfolio investment purposes. Credit is allocated on market terms and freely available. Denmark adheres to its IMF Article VIII obligations. The Danish banking system is under the regulatory oversight of the Financial Supervisory Authority. Differentiated voting rights – A and B stocks – are used to some extent, and several Danish companies are controlled by foundations, which can restrict potential hostile takeovers, including foreign takeovers.

The Danish stock market functions efficiently. In 2005, the Copenhagen Stock Exchange became part of the integrated Nordic and Baltic market place, OMX Exchanges, which is headquartered in Stockholm. Besides Stockholm and Copenhagen, OMX also includes the stock exchanges in Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. In order to increase the access to capital for primarily small companies, the OMX in December 2005 opened a Nordic alternative marketplace – “First North” – in Denmark. In February 2008, the exchanges were acquired by the NASDAQ-OMX Group. In the World Economic Forum 2018 report, Denmark ranks 12th out of 140 on the metric “Financial System”

The Danish stock market is divided into four different branches/indexes. The C25 index contains the 25 most valuable companies in Denmark. Other large companies with a market value exceeding USD 1.1 billion (EUR 1 billion) are in the group of “Large Cap,” companies with a market value between USD 170 million (EU 150 million) and USD 1.1 billion belong to the “Mid Cap” segment, while companies with a market value smaller than USD 170 million belong to “Small Cap” group.

Money and Banking System

The major Danish banks are rated by international agencies, and their creditworthiness is rated as high by international standards. The European Central Bank and the Danish National Bank reported that Denmark’s major banks have passed stress tests by considerable margins.

Denmark’s banking sector is relatively large; based on the ratio of consolidated banking assets to GDP, the sector is three times bigger than the national economy. Domestic banks in Denmark own approximately 87 percent of the industry’s total assets, while foreign banks hold only 13 percent. The assets of the three largest Danish banks – Danske Bank, Nordea Bank Danmark, and Jyske Bank – constitute approximately 75 percent of the total assets in the Danish banking sector.

Denmark’s biggest systemically important bank, Dansk Bank, with assets that are roughly 1 1/2 times Denmark’s total GDP, is under criminal investigation in several jurisdictions amid accusations an Estonian branch became a European hub for money launderers from Russia. The bank has admitted that a significant part of about EUR 200 billion (USD 230 billion) that flowed through the non-resident portfolio of its tiny Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015 could have illicit origins.  The scandal has led to significant tightening of financial regulation, including increasing penalties by up to 700 percent and increased funding for the Financial Supervisory Authority.

The primary goal of the Central Bank (Nationalbanken) is to keep the peg of the Danish currency towards the Euro – with allowed fluctuations of 2.25 percent. It also functions as the general lender to Danish commercial banks and controls the money supply in the economy.

As occurred in many countries, Danish banks experienced significant turbulence in 2008 – 2009. The Danish Parliament subsequently passed a series of measures to establish a “safety net” program, provide government lending to financial institutions in need of capital to uphold their solvency requirements, and ensure the orderly winding down of failed banks.  The Parliament passed an additional measure, the fourth Bank Package, in August 2011, which sought to identify systemically important financial institutions, ensure the liquidity of banks which assume control of a troubled bank, support banks acquiring troubled banks by allowing them to write off obligations of the troubled bank to the government, and change the funding mechanism for the sector-funded guarantee fund to a premiums-based, pay-as-you-go system. According to the Danish Government, Bank Package 4 provides mechanisms for a sector solution to troubled banks without senior debt holder losses, but does not supersede earlier legislation. As such, senior debt holder losses are still a possibility in the event of a bank failure.

On October 10, 2013, the Danish Minister for Business and Growth concluded a political agreement with broad political support which, based on the most recent financial statements, identified seven financial institutions as “systemically important”: Danske Bank, Nykredit, Nordea Bank Danmark, Jyske Bank, Sydbank and DLR Kredit. These were identified based on three quantitative measures: 1) a balance sheet to GDP ratio above 6.5 percent; 2) market share of lending in Denmark above 5 percent; or 3) market share of deposits in Denmark above 5 percent, which will be lowered to 3 percent during 2018. If an institution is above the requirement of any one of the three measures, it will be considered systemically important and must adhere to the stricter requirements on capitalization, liquidity and resolution. The Faroese SIFI are P/F BankNordik, Betri Banki P/F and Norðoya Sparikassi, while Grønlandsbanken is the only SIFI in Greenland.

Experts expect a revision of the Danish system of troubled financial institution resolution mechanisms in connection with a decision to join the EU Banking Union. The national payment system, “Nets” was sold to a consortium consisting of Advent International Corp., Bain Capital LLC, and Danish pension fund ATP in March 2014 for DKK 17 billion (USD 2.58 billion). Nets went public with an IPO late 2016.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Exchange rate conversions throughout this document are based on the 2018 average exchange rate where Danish Kroner (DKK) 6.3174 = 1 USD (USD )

There are no restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with an investment into or out of Denmark. Policies in place are intended to facilitate the free flow of capital and to support the flow of resources in the product and services markets. Foreign investors can obtain credit in the local market at normal market terms, and a wide range of credit instruments is available.

Denmark has not adopted the Euro currency. The country meets the EU’s economic convergence criteria for membership and can join if it wishes to do so. Denmark conducts a fixed exchange rate policy with the Danish Krone linked closely to the Euro within the framework of ERM II. The Danish Krone (DKK; plural: Kroner, in English, “the Crown”) has a fluctuation band of +/- 2.25 percent of the central rate of DKK 746.038 per 100 Euro. The Danish Government supports inclusion in a European Banking Union, as long as it can be harmonized with the Danish Euro opt-out and there is a guarantee that the Danish mortgage finance system will be allowed to continue in its present form.

The Danish political reservation concerning Euro participation can only be abolished by national referendum, and Danish voters have twice (in 1992 and 2000) voted it down. The government has stated that in principle it supports adopting the Euro, but no referendum is expected for the foreseeable future. Regular polling on this issue shows a majority of public opinion remains in favor of keeping the Krone. According to the Stability and Growth Pact, a Euro country’s debt to GDP ratio cannot exceed 60 percent and budget deficit to GDP ratio cannot exceed 3 percent. Denmark’s debt to GDP ratio was 34.1 percent by the end of 2018, down from 36.1 percent in 2017. Denmark ran a budget surplus of 0.5 percent in 2018 and of 1.4 percent in 2017, well within Stability & Growth Pact parameters.

Remittance Policies

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Denmark maintains no sovereign wealth funds.

Finland

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Finland is open to foreign portfolio investment and has an effective regulatory system.  According to the Bank of Finland, in March 2019 Finland had USD 10.6 billion worth of official reserve assets, mainly in foreign currency reserves and securities.  Credit is allocated on market terms and is made available to foreign investors in a non-discriminatory manner, and private sector companies have access to a variety of credit instruments.  Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

The Helsinki Stock Exchange is part of OMX, referred to as NASDAQ OMX Helsinki (OMXH).  NASDAQ OMX Helsinki is part of the NASDAQ OMX Nordic division, together with the Stockholm, Copenhagen, Iceland, and Baltic (Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius) stock exchanges.

Finland accepts the obligations under IMF Article VIII, Sections 2(a), 3, and 4 of the Fund’s Articles of Agreement.  It maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions, except for those measures imposed for security reasons in accordance with Regulations of the Council of the European Union.

Money and Banking System

Banking is open to foreign competition.  At the end of 2017, there were 267 credit institutions operating in Finland and total assets of the domestic banking groups and branches of foreign banks operating in Finland amounted to USD 473 billion.  For more information see: https://www.finanssiala.fi/en/material/FFI-Finnish-Banking-2017.pdf .

Foreign nationals can in principle open bank accounts in the same manner as Finns.  However, banks must identify customers and this may prove more difficult for foreign nationals.  In addition to personal and address data, the bank often needs to know the person’s identifier code (i.e. social security number), and a number of banks require a work permit, a certificate of studies, or a letter of recommendation from a trustworthy bank, and details regarding the nature of transactions to be made with the account.  All authorized deposit-taking banks are members of the Deposit Guarantee Fund, which guarantees customers’ deposits to a maximum of EUR 100,000 per depositor.

In 2017 the capital adequacy ratio of the Finnish banking sector was 23.4 percent, well above the EU average and one of the strongest in Europe.  Measured in Core Tier 1 Capital, the ratio was 21.0 percent. The average CET1 ratio in the EU banking sector was 14.6 percent at the end of 2017.  The Finnish banking sector’s return on equity (ROE) was 8.8 percent, well above the average ROE for all EU banking sectors (5.8 percent). Standard & Poor’s announced in March 2019 that it was retaining Finland’s AA+ credit rating, while Fitch kept Finland’s credit rating at AA+ in February 2019.  Moody’s lowered its triple-A rating to Aa1 in June 2016, keeping it there in February 2019.

Nordea, which relocated its headquarters to Finland in 2018, has the leading market position among household and corporate customers in Finland.  It became a member of the “we.trade” consortium in November 2017. The consortium is building a platform aiming to make domestic and cross-border commerce easier for European companies by harnessing the power of distributed ledger and block chain technology.  The Finnish Tax Administration released guidelines on the taxation of cryptocurrency in May 2018, which are due to be amended in spring 2019. The current guidelines are at: https://www.vero.fi/en/detailed-guidance/guidance/48411/taxation-of-virtual-currencies/#3-virtual-currency-in-corporate-taxation  .

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Finland adopted the Euro as its official currency in January 1999.  Finland maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for international transactions, except for those measures imposed for security reasons.  

Remittance Policies

There are no legal obstacles to direct foreign investment in Finnish securities or exchange controls regarding payments into and out of Finland.  Banks must identify their customers and report suspected cases of money laundering or the financing of terrorism. Banks and credit institutions must also report single payments or transfers of EUR 15,000 or more.  If the origin of funds is suspect, banks must immediately inform the National Bureau of Investigation. There are no restrictions on current transfers or repatriation of profits. Residents and non-residents may hold foreign exchange accounts.  There is no limit on dividend distributions as long as they correspond to a company’s official earnings records.

Travelers carrying more than EUR 10,000 must make a declaration upon entering or leaving the EU.  As a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) member, Finland observes most of FATF’s 40 recommendations.  In its Mutual Evaluation Report of Finland, released April 16, 2019, FATF concluded that Finland’s measures to combat money laundering and terrorist financing are delivering good results, but that the country needs to improve supervision to ensure that financial and non-financial institutions are properly implementing effective AML/CFT controls.  FATF’s Mutual Evaluation Report of Finland, April 2019: http://www.fatf-gafi.org/countries/d-i/finland/documents/mer-finland-2019.html  .

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Solidium is an investment company that is fully-owned by the State of Finland.  Although it is not explicitly a sovereign wealth fund, Solidium’s mission is to manage and increase the long-term value of the listed shareholdings of the Finnish State.  Solidium is a minority owner in 13 listed companies; the market value of Solidium’s equity holdings is approximately USD 9.1 billion (April 2019), https://www.solidium.fi/en/holdings/holdings/  ).

France and Monaco

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

There are no administrative restrictions on portfolio investment in France, and there is an effective regulatory system in place to facilitate portfolio investment. France’s open financial market allows foreign firms easy access to a variety of financial products, both in France and internationally. France continues to modernize its marketplace; as markets expand, foreign and domestic portfolio investment has become increasingly important. As in most EU countries, France’s listed companies are required to meet international accounting standards. Some aspects of French legal, regulatory and accounting regimes are less transparent than U.S. systems, but they are consistent with international norms. Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches and operations in France and are subject to international prudential measures. Under IMF Article VIII France may not impose restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for current international transactions without the (prior) approval of the Fund.

Foreign investors have access to all classic financing instruments, including short-, medium-, and long-term loans, short- and medium-term credit facilities, and secured and non-secured overdrafts offered by commercial banks. These assist in public offerings of shares and corporate debt, as well as mergers, acquisitions and takeovers, and offer hedging services against interest rate and currency fluctuations. Foreign companies have access to all banking services. Most loans are provided at market rates, although subsidies are available for home mortgages and small business financing.

Euronext Paris (also known as Paris Bourse) is part of a regulated cross-border exchange located in six European countries. Euronext Growth is an alternative exchange for medium-sized companies to list on a less regulated market (based on the legal definition of the European investment services directive), with more consumer protection than the Marche Libre still used by a couple hundred small businesses for their first stock listing. A company seeking a listing on Euronext Growth must have a sponsor with status granted by Euronext, and prepare a French language prospectus for a permit from the Autorite des Marches Financiers (AMF or Financial Markets Authority), the French equivalent of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) may also list on EnterNext, a new subsidiary of the Euronext Group. The bourse in Paris also offers Euronext Access, an unregulated exchange for Start-ups.

Money and Banking System

France’s banking system recovered gradually from the 2008-2009 global financial crises and passed the 2018 stress tests conducted by the European Banking Authority. The French banking sector is healthy. Non-performing loans were 3.1 percent in France at the end of 2017, compared to a ratio of 3.6 percent in the previous year. The French banking industry is notable for its universal banking model: a single bank offers a full range of financial business lines: retail banking, specialist finance, corporate and investment banking, asset management and insurance.

Four French banks are ranked among the world’s 20 largest. The assets of France’s largest banks totaled EUR 7.5 trillion (USD 8.47 trillion) in 2018. Acting on a proposal from the Banque de France in June 2018, the High Council for Financial Stability (HCSF) told the country’s largest banks to raise the “countercyclical capital buffer” from zero to 0.25 percent of their bank’s risk-weighted assets. HCSF cited international “factors of economic and political uncertainty that could put growth at risk.”

France has a central bank, namely the Banque de France, that is a member of the Eurosystem, which groups together the European Central Bank (ECB) and the national central banks of all countries that have adopted the euro. The Banque de France is a public entity governed by the French Monetary and Financial Code. The conditions whereby it conducts its missions on national territory are set out in its Public Service Contract. The three main missions are monetary strategy, financial stability together with the High Council of financial stability (Haut Conseil de la Stabilite Financiere) which implements macroprudential policy, and the provision of economic services to the community. In addition, it participates in the preparation and implementation of decisions taken centrally by the ECB Governing Council.

Foreign banks can operate in France either as subsidiaries or branches but need to obtain a license. Credit institutions’ licenses are generally issued by France’s Prudential Authority (ACPR – Autorite de Controle Prudentiel et de Resolution) which reviews whether certain conditions are met (e.g. minimum capital requirement, sound and prudent management of the bank, compliance with balance sheet requirements, etc.). Both EU law and French legislation apply to foreign banks. Foreign banks or branches are additionally subject to prudential measures and must provide periodic reports to the ACPR regarding operations in France, including detailed reports on their financial situation. At the EU level, the ‘passporting right’ allows a foreign bank settled in any EU country to provide their services across the EU, including France. There are about 1,028 credit institutions authorized to carry on banking activities in France; the list of foreign banks is available on this website: https://www.regafi.fr/spip.php?page=results&type=advanced&id_secteur=3&lang=
en&denomination=&siren=&cib=&bic=&nom=&siren_agent=&num=&cat=01-TBR07&retrait=0
 

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

France’s investment remittance policies are stable and transparent. All inward and outward payments must be made through approved banking intermediaries by bank transfers. There is no restriction on the repatriation of capital. Similarly, there are no restrictions on transfers of profits, interest, royalties, or service fees. Foreign-controlled French businesses are required to have a resident French bank account and are subject to the same regulations as other French legal entities. The use of foreign bank accounts by residents is permitted.

For purposes of controlling exchange, the French government considers foreigners as residents from the time they arrive in France. French and foreign residents are subject to the same rules; they are entitled to open an account in a foreign currency with a bank established in France, and to establish accounts abroad. They must report all foreign accounts on their annual income tax returns, and money earned in France may be freely converted into dollars or any other currency and transferred abroad.

France is one of nineteen countries (known collectively as the Eurozone) that use the euro currency. Exchange rate policy for the euro is handled by the European Central Bank, located in Frankfurt, Germany. The average euro to USD exchange rate from April 11, 2018 to April 12, 2019 was 1 USD to 0.88 euro.

France is a founding member of the OECD-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF, a 34-nation intergovernmental body). As reported in the Department of State’s France Report on Terrorism, the French government has a comprehensive anti-money laundering/counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF) regime and is an active partner in international efforts to control money laundering and terrorist financing. Tracfin, the French government’s financial intelligence unit, is active within international organizations, and has signed new bilateral agreements with foreign countries.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

France has no sovereign wealth fund per se (none that use that nomenclature), but does operate funds with similar intent. The Public Investment Bank (Banque Publique d’Investissement – BPI, now known as Bpifrance) supports small and-medium term enterprises (SMEs), larger enterprises (Entreprises de Taille Intermedaire) and innovating businesses. The government strategy is defined at the national level and aims to fit with local strategies. Bpifrance may hold direct stakes in companies, hold indirect stakes via generalist or sectorial funds, venture capital, development or transfer capital. Bpifrance has minority stakes in 214 firms and 56 investment funds that invest in businesses. It also provides export insurance.

Luxembourg

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Luxembourg government policies, which reflect the European Union’s free movement of capital framework, facilitate the free flow of financial resources to support the product and factor markets.  Credit is allocated on market terms, and foreign investors are able to get credit on the local market, thanks to the sophisticated and extremely developed international financial sector, depending on the banks’ individual lending policies.

Since the financial crisis and tighter regulation through EU central banking authority and stability mechanisms, banks have become more selective in their lending practices.  The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments, including those issued by the National Public Investment Agency (SNCI), and there is an effective regulatory system established to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment.

In recent years, Luxembourg has been recognized as a model of fighting money-laundering activities within its banking system through the enactment of strict regulations and monitoring of fund sources.  The country has its own stock market, a sub-set of which was rebranded in 2016 as a “green exchange” to promote securities (primarily bonds in Luxembourg) reflecting ecologically sound investments.

Money and Banking System

Luxembourg’s banking system is sound and strong, having been shored up following the world financial crisis by emergency investments by the Government of Luxembourg in BGL BNP Paribas (formerly Banque Generale du Luxembourg and then Fortis) and by the Government of Luxembourg in Banque Internationale a Luxembourg (BIL), formerly Dexia, in 2008.

At the end of 2018, 136 credit institutions were operating, with total assets of EUR 790 billion during the first quarter of 2019 (USD 894 billion), and approximately 26,000 employees.

Luxembourg has a central bank, Banque Centrale de Luxembourg.  Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations, subject to the same regulations as Luxembourgish banks.

Due to the U.S. FATCA law, local retail bank Raiffeisen bank still refuses U.S. citizens as clients.  However, two banks have offered to serve U.S. citizen customers: BIL and the State Bank and Savings Bank (Banque et Caisse d’Epargne de l’Etat).

On February 21, 2018, the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the European FinTech platform, B-Hive, based in Brussels, and the Dutch Blockchain Coalition, that will favor collaboration in the field of distributed ledger technology, otherwise known as blockchain.  The MoU confirms mutual interest and defines the fields of collaboration, among other things, on how blockchain technology can benefit society and business in general or on how they can help define international and/or European standards for distributed ledger technology.

The Ministry of Finance is tracking developments very closely in the field of virtual currencies and has said it will adapt its legislation in accordance with the results of ongoing European and international studies. Luxembourg places virtual currencies under the legal regime of payment companies.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan repayments, lease payments) into a freely usable currency and at a legal market-clearing rate.  Luxembourg was a proponent of the euro currency and adopted it immediately at inception in 1999 (as part of the “Eurozone” of EU member states adopting the euro to replace their former domestic currencies.) The European Central Bank is the authority in charge of the euro currency.

Remittance Policies

There have not been any recent changes to remittance policies with respect to access to foreign exchange for investment remittances.  There is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange, which has been freely traded since the 1960s, and the Luxembourg stock market trades in forty different currencies, so is truly international and expanding at a fast rate.

The average delay period currently in effect for remitting investment returns such as dividends, return of capital, interest and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties and management fees through normal, legal channels is quite brief, approximately 24 hours. Investors can remit through a legal parallel market including one utilizing cash and convertible negotiable instruments (such as dollar-denominated host government bonds issued in lieu of immediate payments in dollars).  There is no limitation on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Luxembourg created a sovereign wealth fund in 2014. The fund is under the tutelage of the Ministry of Finance and operates with 234 million euros of assets.  Until the fund reaches 250 million euros of assets, it operates a conservative investment policy, with a portfolio of 57 percent of bonds, 40 percent of stocks and 3 percent of liquidities.  The sovereign wealth fund only invests outside of Luxembourg and is audited by an independent audit company.

Netherlands

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Netherlands is home to the world’s oldest stock exchange – established four centuries ago – and to Europe’s first options exchange, both located in Amsterdam.  The Amsterdam financial exchanges are part of the Euronext group that operates stock exchanges and derivatives markets in Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, and Paris.

Dutch financial markets are fully developed and operate at market rates, facilitating the free flow of financial resources.  The Netherlands is an international financial center for the foreign exchange market, Eurobonds, and bullion trade.

The flexibility that foreign companies enjoy in conducting business in the Netherlands extends into the area of currency and foreign exchange.  There are no restrictions on foreign investors’ access to sources of local finance.

Money and Banking System

The Dutch banking sector is firmly embedded in the European System of Central Banks, of which the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) is the national prudential banking supervisor.  AFM, the Dutch securities and exchange supervisor, supervises financial institutions and the proper functioning of financial markets and falls under the EU-wide European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA).

The highly concentrated Dutch banking sector is over three times as large as the rest of the Dutch economy, making it one of Europe’s largest banking sectors in relation to GDP.  Three banks ING, ABN AMRO, and Rabobank, hold nearly 85 percent of the banking sector’s total assets. The largest bank, ING, has a balance sheet of USD 1 trillion (€887 billion).

The DNB does not consider Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies to be a legitimate currency, as they do not fulfill the traditional purposes of money as stable means of exchange or saving.  The DNB does not consider Bitcoin to have any implications for monetary policy.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU and one of the first members of the Eurozone.  The European Central Bank supervises monetary policy, and the president of the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) sits on the European Central Bank’s Governing Council.

There are no restrictions on the conversion or repatriation of capital and earnings (including branch profits, dividends, interest, royalties), or management and technical service fees, with the exception of the nominal exchange-license requirements for nonresident firms.

Remittance Policies

The Netherlands does not impose waiting periods or other measures on foreign exchange for remittances.  Similarly, there are no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittance of profits or revenue.  The Netherlands, as a Eurozone member, does not engage in currency manipulation tactics.

The Netherlands has been a member of the FATF since 1990 and – because of the membership of its Caribbean territories in the Caribbean FATF (C-FATF) – strongly supports C-FATF.

With the promulgation of additional, preventative anti-money laundering and counterfeiting legislation, the Netherlands has remedied many of the deficiencies revealed in a 2011 Mutual Evaluation Report.  As a result, FATF removed the Netherlands from its “regular follow-up process” in February 2014. The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) has listed the Netherlands as a “country of primary concern,” largely because the country is a major global financial center and consequently an attractive venue for laundering funds generated by illicit activities.  More information can be found at https://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2016/vol2/253421.htm.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Netherlands has no sovereign wealth funds.

Norway

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Norway has a highly-computerized banking system that provides a full range of banking services, including internet banking.  There are no significant impediments to the free market-determined flow of financial resources.

Foreign and domestic investors have access to a wide variety of credit instruments.  The financial regulatory system is transparent and consistent with international norms.  The Oslo Stock Exchange facilitates portfolio investment and securities transactions in general.

Money and Banking System

Norwegian banks are generally considered to be on a sound financial footing, and the 10 largest banks hold around USD 600 billion in assets.  Conservative asset/liquidity requirements limited the exposure of banks to the global financial crisis in 2008/9. Foreign banks have been permitted to establish branches in Norway since 1996.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Norway’s currency is the Krone.  Dividends, profits, interest on loans, debentures, mortgages, and repatriation of invested capital are freely and fully remissible, subject to Central Bank reporting requirements.  Ordinary payments from Norway to foreign entities can normally be made without formalities through commercial banks. Norway is a member of the Financial Action Task Force.

Remittance Policies

See above, no restrictions.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), was established in 1990 and was valued at NOK 8,256 billion (USD 971 billion) at year-end 2018.  The management mandate requires the fund to be invested widely, outside Norway. Petroleum revenues are invested in global stocks and bonds, and the current portfolio includes over 9,000 companies and approximately 1.4 percent of global stocks.  The fund is invested across three asset classes. The fund aims to invest in most markets, countries, and currencies to achieve broad exposure to global economic growth. Just over a third of the fund’s investments are in the United States, which is its single largest market.  The fund tries to play an active role in its investments and aims at voting in almost all general shareholder meetings.

In 2004, Norway adopted ethical guidelines for GPFG investments that prohibit investment in companies engaged in various forms of weapons production, environmental degradation, tobacco production, human rights violations, and what it terms “other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.”  In March 2019 the GON announced that companies classified by index provider FTSE Russell as being in the subsector “0533 Exploration & Production” in the sector “0001 Oil & Gas” no longer would be part of the GPFG portfolio. Current holdings in these companies will be phased out over time. More broadly-focused energy companies, which have investments in renewable and sustainable energy sources as well as oil & gas divisions, may still be included.  The fund currently has over 100 companies on its exclusion list, at least 24 of which are U.S. companies. The ethical guidelines also highlight three focus areas in term of sustainability: children’s rights, climate change, and water management.

The fund adheres to the Santiago Principles and is a member of the IMF-hosted International Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Sweden

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Credit is allocated on market terms and is made available to foreign investors in a non-discriminatory fashion.  The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.  NASDAQ-OMX is a modern, open, and active forum for domestic and foreign portfolio investment. It is Sweden’s official stock exchange and operates under specific legislation.  Furthermore, the Swedish government is neutral toward portfolio investment and Sweden has a fully capable regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investments.

Money and Banking System

Several foreign banks, including Citibank, have established branch offices in Sweden, and several niche banks have started to compete in the retail bank market.  The three largest Swedish banks are Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB), Svenska Handelsbanken, and Swedbank. Nordea is the largest foreign bank and largest bank in Sweden, while Danske Bank is the second largest foreign bank and the fifth largest bank in Sweden.  A deposit insurance system was introduced in 1996, whereby individuals received protection of up to SEK 250,000 (USD 38,285) of their deposits in case of bank insolvency. On December 31, 2010, the maximum compensation was raised to the SEK equivalent of 100,000 euro.

The banks’ activities are supervised by the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinspektionen, http://www.fi.se, to ensure that standards are met.  Swedish banks’ financial statements meet international standards and are audited by internationally-recognized auditors only.  The Swedish Bankers’ Association, http://www.bankforeningen.se , represents banks and financial institutions in Sweden.  The association works closely with regulators and policy makers in Sweden and Europe.  Sweden is not part of the Eurozone; however, Swedish commercial banks offer euro-denominated accounts and payment services.

In 2014 Sweden signed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreement with the United States to counter tax evasion and fraud.  Financial institutions in Sweden are now obligated to submit information on American citizen account holders to the Swedish Tax Agency, which relays this to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  In 2015 the Swedish Parliament passed new laws and regulations associated with FATCA implemention:

  • a new law on the identification of reportable accounts with respect to FATCA;
  • changes to tax procedure act;
  • new legislation on the exchange of information with respect to the agreement; and
  • consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and other laws.

For full text of Bill 2014/15:41, please see http://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/bd8cf7f897364944b35f5f30c099bc0c/genomforande-av-avtal-mellan-sveriges-regering-och-amerikas-forenta-staters-regering-for-att-forbattra-internationell-efterlevnad-av-skatteregler-och-for-att-genomfora-fatca-prop.-20141541> .

Foreign banks or branches offering financial services must have an authorization from the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinpektionen, to conduct operations.  As part of the authorization application process, FI reviews the firm’s capital situation, business plan, owners, and management.  Parts of the firm’s daily operations may also require authorization from FI. The applicable regulatory code can be found at http://www.fi.se/en/our-registers/search-fffs/2009/20093/ .

There are no reported losses of correspondent banking relationships in the past three years and there are no current correspondent banking relationships that are in jeopardy. Foreigners have the right to open an account in a bank in Sweden provided he/she can identify him/herself and the bank conducts an identity check.  The bank cannot require the person to have a Swedish personal identity number or an address in Sweden.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Sweden adheres to a floating exchange rate regime and the national currency (Swedish Krona) rate fluctuates.

Remittance Policies

Sweden does not impose any restrictions on remittances of profits, proceeds from the liquidation of an investment, or royalty and license fee payments.  A subsidiary or branch may transfer fees to a parent company outside of Sweden for management services, research expenditures, etc. Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency.  In general, yields on invested funds, such as dividends and interest receipts, may be freely transferred. A foreign-owned firm may also raise foreign currency loans both from its parent corporation and credit institutions abroad.  There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies. There are no time limitations on remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

There is no sovereign wealth fund in Sweden.

Investment Climate Statements
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