In a previous article, I started the discussion of various FATCA letters issued by banks around the world by concentrating on the HSBC FATCA letter. In this article, I would like to shift focus to a different part of the world and discuss the Swiss format with BCGE FATCA Letter.
BCGE FATCA Letter: General Format
BCGE (Banque Cantonale de Geneve) is determined to comply with FATCA. For this purpose, it developed its own format of a FATCA letter which closely follows the format adopted by most Swiss banks.
BCGE FATCA Letter follows what I call “comprehensive format” (as opposed to the “reference format” followed by HSBC). This means that BCGE FATCA Letter contains all of the main questions within the body of the letter and references only supplementary US forms (like W8BEN and W9). Thus, BCGE FATCA Letter allows BCGE to collect all of the information necessary for its own FATCA compliance in one place and without the need to create any other specialized forms.
It should be noted that the description of the format so far concentrated on the most common BCGE FATCA Letter for individuals, but there are variations in the form for trusts and corporations. Furthermore, there is a variation for the form for certain other circumstances. Since most US account holders who receive a BCGE FATCA are individuals, I will concentrate on the most common format only.
Let’s review each part of the common BCGE FATCA Letter.
BCGE FATCA Letter: Personal Information
The BCGE FATCA Letter commences with the confirmation of the identity and personal information (including place of residence) of the account holder. This section also commences the examination of the account holder’s US tax status by requiring the account holder to list all of his nationalities and the country of birth.
BCGE FATCA Letter: “Per Se” US Status
This is the most critical part of BCGE FATCA Letter because it focuses on the main designations of US person. In particular, this part of BCGE FATCA Letter asks whether the account holder has US national, is a US tax resident (which is asked in two different ways which mean the same thing – lawful permanent resident and the “green card” test), and whether the substantial presence test is satisfied. Definition for the later is provided in a footnote.
If there is at least one affirmative answer to these first four questions, BCGE will automatically classify the account holder as a US person subject to FATCA reporting. Once this determination is made, BCGE FATCA Letter requires the account holder to submit Form W-9 and a special BCGE Form 6387 “Consent to the disclosure of data according to FATCA”. Failure to complete Form 6387 may result in the BCGE designation of the account under FATCA as belonging to a “recalcitrant account holder”.
Please, note that once a status of US person is established, BCGE is very likely to close any securities accounts of a US account holder.
BCGE FATCA Letter Questions 1.5-1.8 on Potential US Status
If the account holder negatively answered the first four questions, the next part of the BCGE FATCA Letter asks a series of questions to see if the account holder if a US person in some other way. Most of these questions also require a submission of Form W-8BEN (with a non-US passport) or W-9.
BCGE FATCA Letter usually contains the following questions. First, whether the account holder was born in the USA or in a US territory (a definition is provided for this term). If the answer is “yes”, but the account holder believes that he is still not a US person, then he must submit Form W-8BEN, a non-US passport or a similar document, and a copy of the certificate of loss of US nationality. If the certificate cannot be produced, BCGE FATCA Letter automatically classifies the account holder as a US person and requires him to submit Form W-9 and a Consent to the disclosure of data under FATCA.
Second, BCGE FATCA Letter asks whether the account holder is a US taxpayer for any other reason – this a “catch all” question to make sure that BCGE does not miss a potential FATCA requirement. BCGE FATCA Letter lists a number of possibilities of how one becomes a US person : joint tax status with a US spouse, in the process of renouncing US nationality or green card, effectively connected income and owner of a US property. Again, supporting documentation or Form W-9 with the Disclosure Consent under FATCA are required.
Finally, BCGE FATCA Letter addresses the remaining potential for the account holder to be a US taxpayer such as US mailing address, care-of address, postbox, and fixed or mobile telephone number. If the account holder has any of these items, then BCGE FATCA Letter asks him to provide Form W-8BEN with a non-US passport (or similar documentation).
BCGE FATCA letter: Confirmation of Beneficial Ownership Status
By signing BCGE FATCA Letter, the account holder affirms that he is the beneficial owner of the bank account.
BCGE FATCA Letter: Treaty Relief Considerations
If it is established that the account holder is NOT a US person, BCGE FATCA Letter contains a fairly unique aspect – discussion of the possibility of claiming a favorable tax status with respect to investments into US Securities. Most other banks usually discuss this important issue in a separate letter, but BCGE FATCA Letter actually incorporates this issue within its body. Form W-8BEN is required to proceed.
BCGE FATCA Letter: Notice and Reimbursement Requirements Imposed on Account Holder
Finally, a BCGE FATCA Letter usually contains another interesting topic – the shift of risk to the account holder through imposition of notice requirements. Since this is a tactic which is adopted increasingly by foreign banks, it is useful to explore this requirement with specificity.
BCGE FATCA Letter states that, by signing the Letter, the account holder “undertakes to inform the Bank of any changes in circumstances resulting in a change of tax status, as the one indicated below and transmit the necessary documents or forms within 30 days after the change in circumstances.” BCGE FATCA Letter sets forth three such changes: change of residence, change of nationality and amendment of the account holder’s tax status (such as receipt of green card, substantial presence in the United States, et cetera).
BCGE FATCA Letter goes on to state that if the declarations made by the account holder in the Letter become invalid for some reason (such as belated discovery of U.S. status), the account holder must transmit to BCGE a new declaration of status with a Form W-9 and FATCA waiver.
The key phrase, however, is with respect to what happens if the information submitted by the account holder within the BCGE FATCA Letter turns out to be incorrect or incomplete. In such a case, the account holder “undertakes to indemnify the Bank for all damages it may suffer” as a result of relying on the incorrect declarations made in the BCGE FATCA Letter. It is unclear whether failure to comply with the Notice requirement is equally subject to this reimbursement requirements, but it seems to be the case.
Thus, it appears that BCGE FATCA Letter decisively shifts all risk of an incorrect declaration (even if non-willful due to belated discovery) from BCGE to the account holder. This is why it is important for the account holder’s attorney to carefully review this document and negotiate the necessary changes.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With FATCA Compliance
If you received a FATCA letter regarding an undisclosed personal or business account, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our team of international experts will thoroughly review your case, analyze your current FBAR and FATCA exposure, recommend the proper voluntary disclosure plan and help you implement it (including preparation of all necessary legal documents and tax forms).