This article was written before the recent developments in the US-Cuban relations, which may lead to greater financial freedoms in Cuba.
There is very little information available on the Cuban banking sector and spending time in and around Havana didn’t shed a ton of light either. Beautiful city, though, with some of the best mojitos I’ve ever had.
This is one of few countries with two currencies: one called convertible peso and one called just peso. The convertible peso is pegged 1:1 with USD. The banking sector is flush with EUR and other international currencies.
While you might think that so many currencies coming together would lead to something good, Cuba has the least developed banking sector in the entire Americas. Two things still attract foreign investors: the local economy and indirect secrecy.
Most Cuban banks have SWIFT BICs and are (or should be) able to directly send wire transfers.
There are nine commercial banks licensed in Cuba:
- Banco Nacional de Cuba (BNC)
- Banco de Crédito y Comercio (BANDEC)
- Banco Popular de Ahorro (BPA)
- Banco Exterior de Cuba (BEC)
- Banco Financiero Internacional (BFI)
- Banco Internacional de Comercio S.A.
- Banco Metropolitano S.A.
- Banco de Inversiones S.A.
- Banco Industrial Venezuela – Cuba S.A.
Now, because Cuba for so long has been so isolated, not all banks have websites and if they do they are often outdated, have a distinct early 2000s feel, and/or are extremely bare bones. This is improving but, again, Cuba is far behind the rest of the Americas. Since I took the time to document my experience with each bank, let’s go through them one by one.
Banco Nacional de Cuba (BNC)
State-owned bank. The name might be familiar, as they tried to extract over 9 million USD from Chase Manhattan Bank in the 1980s.
No website. Effectively a part of the central bank.
Banco de Crédito y Comercio (BANDEC)
BANDEC does have a website, hosted by a third-party: http://www.santiago.cu/hosting/bandec/
The bank holds a fairly impressive range of correspondent accounts.
There is no internet banking facility available, but I was told by BANDEC that instructions and inquiries can be sent to the bank by phone, email, and fax. The fee structure is nothing short of disastrous, but after crunching the numbers it turns out to be cheap as long as the number of transactions are low.
I left the bank with a piece of paper containing my account numbers, correspondent account information, and two laminated business cards: the bank manager and a customer service representative. To open an account, all they asked for was passport and visa.
Banco Popular de Ahorro (BPA)
This bank has a website: http://www.bpa.cu/?mod=Inicio
With over 200 branches, BPA is one of Cuba’s largest banks.
If it doesn’t load, try again later or try to go to the Product and Services page directly. It’s extremely sporadic.
The bank is effectively limited to CUP, EUR, and CAD due to a rather narrow selection of currencies from their correspondent accounts. They claim to support other currencies but in reality it will be converted to one of those three currencies. I found that Cuban banks generally exaggerate their international financial reach.
While all banks claim to have internet banking “coming soon”, BPA is the one I’d consider most likely to launch it.
As with BANDEC, fees are low.
Banco Exterior de Cuba (BEC)
Banco Financiero Internacional (BFI)
Banco Internacional de Comercio S.A.
International bank of commerce. This bank has got to have a website, right?
Very nice head office in central Havana, though.
Banco Metropolitano S.A.
No, not even the metropolitan bank has a website.
Banco de Inversiones S.A.
Inversiones, if you do not speak Spanish, means investments. This is the republic’s only investment bank. It does have a website, even in English. As of writing, their latest annual report is from 2011, which showed assets of some 171.4 million CUP (circa 7.4 million USD).
Banco Industrial Venezuela – Cuba S.A.
BIV is a large bank in Venezuela, which not too long ago opened up in Cuba as a part of strengthening trade between the two nations.
Banking Secrecy Cuba
Banking secrecy in Cuba is governed by Resolucion No. 66 de 1998.
This piece of legislation gives virtually no protection against Cuban authorities snooping around. In fact, it is a significantly weak banking secrecy legislation.
However, because Cuba has such problematic international relations and its internal authorities are poorly coordinated, any request for information is likely to be denied or never materialize. Residents and/or citizens of countries with which Cuba does not have good relations are unlikely to have their Cuban financials disclosed. While Cuba has signed ten tax treaties, they are outdated and untested.
The downside is that, well, you would be banking in Cuba.
This type of banking secrecy is sometimes referred to as indirect banking secrecy or hostile banking secrecy, where the secrecy is not so much guaranteed by law but rather guaranteed by non-compliance and non-cooperation. It is far less tolerated than legislated banking secrecy.
Cuba has made attempts to attract foreign investors as well as clandestine foreign investors (i.e., money launderers) but has never successfully done so. It has either been beaten out by more established players or caved at the slightest sign of US pressure.
Investing in Cuba
Now, this blog is not about personal finance or tips of asset diversification.
Basically, my conclusion is that there isn’t a whole lot to achieve here that you couldn’t from abroad. The domestic economy is still very much in poor condition and there isn’t much trade, with enormous socialization of everyday needs.
Sending money in and out of Cuba is largely done through regulated or unregulated money remittance companies.
Banking in Cuba is severely underdeveloped and to a non-resident foreigner almost a novelty.
It is possible to open bank accounts for foreign companies in Cuba but it’s a process few have the patience to endure.