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Understanding Offshore Havens

Many countries outside the United States recognize and appreciate financial privacy as a traditional and important right of their citizens. The European nations impose a variety of safeguards to limit unauthorized disclosure of personal information. The members of the European Union have imposed strict controls over the dissemination of personal data. Companies are not permitted to gather personal information or use it for marketing purposes without an individual’s consent. This law effectively bars the type of cross-selling and information peddling engaged in by U.S. companies.

Germany has particularly stringent laws governing the use of personal data. For example, in return for the right to market its credit cards in Germany, Citigroup agreed to allow German inspectors to regularly monitor its giant computer databases-located in South Dakota-to ensure that Germany’s privacy laws are not violated. The European countries are acutely sensitive to the issue-having witnessed firsthand the consequences of privacy abuses from the Nazi and communist regimes.

Elsewhere in the world, out of purely practical concerns, countries have recognized that meeting the demand for financial privacy can be a lucrative source of business. These countries are generally referred to as financial privacy havens or tax havens or offshore havens.

Often, offshore havens have limited domestic resources. Sometimes they are geographically isolated with limited opportunity for economic expansion. Especially for the Caribbean nations, the clean, well-paying jobs and steady revenue source provided by a financial services industry can be an attractive complement or alternative to a complete reliance on tourist dollars.

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