Live the Dream – Dubai Start-Up Advice Series by Alpha Pro Partners
For any new business, a bank account is probably one of the most important processes you will have to do when setting up. Recently, this process has become quite lengthy as you can only open a business bank account once you have received your trade license and in many cases your residence visa also. Opening a business bank account globally, in general, has become an astringent and time-consuming process due to increased requirements of due diligence, increased sanctions checks, and additional operational burdens for banks. On top of this, banks acting internationally have been aggressively fined by the US government due to weak controls which therefore forces them to be more rigorous and cautious when checking and verifying potential customers and business activities. Here we discuss the options a start-up should consider when opening a business bank account. The UAE is home to a number of the most reputable and largest banks in the region and below is a ranking of some of the largest banks by assets.
- First Abu Dhabi Bank - $182bn
- Emirates NBD – $128bn
- Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank - $72bn
- Dubai Islamic Bank - $56bn
- Mashreq bank - $34bn
- Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank - $33.5bn
- Union National Bank - $29bn
- Commercial Bank of Dubai - $19bn
- RAK Bank - $13bn
Other alternatives include many internationally recognized banks operating in the UAE such as Standard Chartered, HSBC, and Citibank which also offer corporate bank account services.
Before you can open a bank account in the UAE, you will be required to obtain your business license and in most cases your residency visa and Emirates ID. Most banks will not process your account before this. The application process can take anywhere between two weeks to two months depending on your circumstances and keep in mind that most banks will require maintaining a minimum balance of anywhere between AED 10,000 to AED 1m. The following is a list of documents to be prepared before the application process:
- Business activity information including possible disclosure of contracts, invoices, and clients.
- Business plans and financial projections for the short to medium term
- Information about management and shareholders
- Board of directors’ resolution approving the opening of the bank account and the signatories
- Company documents such as the certificate of incorporation, trade license, share certificates, memorandum, and articles of association
- Passport, residence visa, and Emirates ID copies of all directors, signatories, and possible shareholders.
For companies that are owned by another parent company, banks will usually request official documentation of that company as stated above. If the parent company is based overseas, then banks will expect their official documents to be legalized in the home country, attested by the UAE embassy in that home country, and then attested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in the UAE. There can also be significant fees in this process depending on the country of origin. Banks will also require periodic updates of expired documents such as trade licenses, passports, and visas to ensure that your service is not interrupted.
Which bank to choose for your business?
As mentioned above, there are many banks in the UAE that are also some of the largest in the region. All UAE banks are regulated by the UAE Central Bank and therefore must adhere to capital adequacy limits which are set by the Basel III international rules. The following is a selection of the available banks and services at the time of writing:
Business accounts require a minimum balance of AED 50,000 to AED 300,000, depending on the account package. Account-holders will typically be given a dedicated relationship manager, enjoy highly competitive foreign exchange rates, special rates on deposits and investments, and many free or discounted charges on the day-to-day transactions.
Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB)
ADCB’s five account options with minimum balance requirements range from AED 25,000 to AED 1,000,000. Accounts feature multi-currency flexibility, preferential pricing on payment transactions, and a dedicated relationship manager.
Mashreq Bank has two business account options which require minimum balances of AED 25,000 and AED 150,000. Accounts come with discounted remittances, discounted foreign exchange rates, and a preferential tariff on the bank’s business financing product.
RAK Bank banks require a minimum balance of AED 25,000 and benefits include a dedicated relationship manager, accounts can be denominated in foreign currency such as GBP, EUR, and USD. For those businesses using Xero as an Accounting software, it is currently the only bank in the UAE where automated bank feeds are functioning.
What is an Islamic Bank?
When choosing a bank in the UAE, the availability of Islamic banks is as widespread as conventional ones. The main difference between an Islamic bank to a conventional bank is that they offer products and services which adhere to Islamic principles and ethics. As interest is forbidden in Islam, Islamic banks operate based on profit rates. They have also recently become more common in the UAE with an increased penetration from 52% to 55% as reported by the Khaleej Times.
What are the typical bank fees expected?
Banks vary their service fees, but it is important to get this information from the bank during the application process. Most banks in the UAE expect the maintenance of a minimum balance and if this is breached then banks will usually charge a fee for this. When making international transfers, fees can vary with some banks charging up to AED 60 per transaction and others AED 25. Other fees to consider include making and receiving payments electronically, cash withdrawal fees, card replacement fees, and WPS processing.
What about International Fund transfers?
Given the fact that approximately 80% of the UAE population is made up of ex-pats, sending money to home countries is a necessity for some. Many residents do not choose to remit cash from their banks due to perceived fees and time delays. Other alternatives to consider aside from the local currency exchanges such as Ansari Exchange and UAE Exchange include TransferWise and Money Corp. Both provide competitive rates and low fees.
WPS Payroll processing
If you intend to employ staff for your business, when opening a bank account you will need to ensure that you can process the WPS via your chosen bank. WPS (Wages Protection System) is an electronic salary transfer system that allows companies to pay employees’ wages via banks and other financial institutions. The system was created by the Ministry of Labour and the Central Bank of the UAE to ensure wages are paid on time and in full. The process involves entering the payroll information into a specific template and then submitting it to the bank or financial organization to pay employees. If your bank cannot accommodate this for you then the alternative is to visit a money exchange such as Ansari Exchange and submit this WPS information in person along with the cash.
Corporate Credit Cards
Most banks also offer corporate credit cards to be used when traveling or paying for online subscriptions. However, keep in mind that many banks require credit cards to be pre-loaded with the credit limit before they can be utilized.
Some banks may have different rules for opening business bank accounts for free zones and mainland entities. Also, different licensed activities will require extra disclosure requirements. For example, many UAE banks may not open a bank account for a free zone with a general trading license unless they have a mainland license and a warehouse. Another new requirement certain banks have is that they request the company to have a physical office rather than a Flexi desk or a smart office. The process of opening a business bank account has become a stringent process in recent times due to the increased global banking regulations. With this in mind processing times and ensuring the correct documents are key when going through this process. However, once your account is open, you can look forward to growing and expanding your new exciting venture.
This article is written in general terms and therefore cannot be relied on to cover specific situations; application of the principles set out will depend upon the particular circumstances involved and we recommend that you obtain professional advice before acting or refraining from acting on any of its contents.