Published On: Thu, May 13th, 2021

ABN-AMRO pacifies clients in St. Maarten

PHILIPSBURG — The ABN-AMRO bank has temporarily withdrawn its intention to terminate relationships with clients who live outside of the European Economic Area. The measure would have affected account holders in St. Maarten like BZSE-attorney Roeland Zwanikken and other attorneys who bank with ABN-AMRO.

In January the bank informed Zwanikken and other account holders of its intention to terminate the relationship per July of this year. The attorney maintains two accounts at ABN-AMRO for himself and one for his daughter Alexia who is studying in the Netherlands.

Zwanikken informed the bank that he would file a lawsuit if it stuck to its intentions. That plan has now become obsolete. The bank stated in an email dated May 12 that it withdraws its letter of January 20 that announced the termination of banking services.

“Currently there are talks about a law proposal Availability Basic Bank Account for Dutch Citizens Abroad. The bank monitors the developments surrounding this law proposal. When the bank decides in the future to part with clients in Curacao, St. Maarten and the BES-islands, you will be informed in writing,” Brigitte Bethlehem, a legal counsel for the bank wrote to Zwanikken.

Other communications with clients on St. Maarten reveal that ABN-AMRO started already in 2016 asking around 15,000 of its five million private customers who do not live in the Netherlands to terminate their banking-activities. At first, this did not concern clients in St. Maarten, Curacao and the BES-islands.

According to the bank recently things changed. “On the one hand the bank wants to focus on clients in Northwestern Europe and on the other hand serving customers outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) leads to higher costs and risks, due to the increasing complexity of relevant legislation.”

The bank stated that it becomes increasingly difficult to offer services outside of the EEA, “because of increasing legislation for financial products and services. The bank has to comply with the legislation of the country where the client lives and with the Dutch law for the prevention of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.”

These laws oblige the bank to subject all of its clients at the beginning of a relationship to an investigation, to monitor that relationship on a continuous basis and to be alert on unusual transactions.

“The Dutch law has a risk-based approach,” ABN-AMRO wrote. “The higher the risks a client represents, the more efforts are demanded from ABN-AMRO to mitigate those risks.”

According to an analysis by HBN Law, it is legally not possible to refuse banking relationships with Dutch citizens that live outside of the EEA. The European Payment Guideline (Betaalrichtlijn) states that all Dutch citizens are citizens of the European Union. The Netherlands is obliged to offer banking services to clients who are legally residing in the European Union. But the law says that it is irrelevant where those clients actually live.

Article 2 of the European Payment Guideline states that a “legally in the Union residing person” is “a private individual who has the right to reside in a member-state based on actions of the Union or national laws.”

“The banks argue that a legally in the Union residing individual is someone who lives in the European Union. But this is not the case. It is a private individual who has the right to reside in the Union,” the HBN-analysis concludes.