Thanks to the e-Residency program, virtually anyone can open a European company in Estonia. When it comes to banking, there are two main options: opening a bank account with an e-Residents friendly bank such as LHV or opting for a digital alternative. In this post, I want to describe some digital business banking alternatives for e-Residents owning a company in Estonia.
Here, it’s important to emphasize that this article discusses banking alternatives for your business, not for your personal finances. For the latter, I wrote an article called The Digital Banking Revolution And What It Means For Digital Nomads.
Why Opting For A Traditional Business Banking Solution?
I currently have a bank account with LHV. LHV is an Estonian bank with physical offices like any other traditional bank. However, it is one of the most e-Resident friendly banks in Estonia, and actually, allows you to open an account without being a -physical- resident in Estonia.
Compared to other banks around the world, that’s a big advantage. If you intend to open a company in the UK, Ireland, or most other places, you will probably need some proof of residence for your application to be accepted.
Nonetheless, it requires you to visit Estonia at least once to meet with an LHV representative. That is due to the KYC -Know Your Customer- directive, that exists to comply with anti-money laundering regulations. In short, they need to meet you face to face to make sure your business is legit and your activities are not illegal.
Edit: Additionally, in September 2018, LHV announced that they will be charging a fee of 20€/m to non-resident company bank accounts and 10€/m to non-resident e-Residents personal accounts. This is certainly a big disappointment and a step back for the e-Residency program.
I opened my account with them for two main reasons.
First and foremost, because I was living in Riga at the time. That meant that I could get to Tallinn by bus in a couple of hours for a negligible cost. Thus, the trip expenses or distance were no real impediments for me.
Secondly, because I initially thought that having a bank account with a traditional bank may have some advantages, like the ability to ask for a loan or being covered by the EDIS (European Deposit Insurance Scheme). LHV had no fee for non-resident e-Residents back then.
All things considered, probably today an account in LHV is not a very alluring option for e-Residents, especially compared to other solutions.
Why Opting For A Digital Business Banking Solution Instead?
If traveling to Estonia is not an option for you, or you find LHV’s 20€/m fee a robbery, you may consider opting for a digital business banking solution. Or maybe you want to have several accounts for your business.
One of the most common prejudices against such alternatives is the preconception that they are not “real bank accounts” or are not on a “real bank”.
Where is my money? What if they go out of business?
While Revolut, Transferwise or Holvi may not have the authority of, say, Bank of America, Santander of ING, it’s unlikely that they will suddenly disappear. Millions of people use them nowadays.
I use them too, both for my business and my personal finances. In fact, Apart from my LHV business account, I have switched to digital banking exclusively.
If you are a big company, generating hundreds of thousands or even millions in revenue every year, and are worried about not being covered by the EDIS, you can probably spend some days and money to pay a visit to LHV’s headquarters.
However, if you are a digital nomad, freelancer, or solopreneur, most possibly you are perfectly fine with this kind of bank accounts.
They cover all your everyday business operation needs: send transfers and pay for services, receive money and recurrent payments from your customers… Also, you will have an IBAN number and a Swift/BIC code that’s virtually indistinguishable from the one of a traditional bank in most cases.
Digital Business Banking Alternatives For e-Residents
These are some of the most well-known digital banking alternatives for e-Residents’ businesses.
Transferwise initially started as a way to solve the problems of sending and receiving money worldwide. concretely, they found a clever way of reducing international transfer expenses and currency conversion fees. Soon, many professionals and digital nomads started using it as an alternative way of paying or being paid online.
Back then, their borderless account didn’t exist yet, so they didn’t provide you with IBAN numbers or a debit card. Curiously enough, after proper digital business banking solutions started to appear (such as Revolut), it took them some time to offer their own product.
Similarly to Revolut’s offering, Transferwise’s borderless account allows you to open a virtual bank account for every currency, and get a valid bank account number. For example, say that you are and Europe-based entrepreneur and receive payments from customers in Europe and a few ones in the States.
Then, you can open EURO and a US DOLLAR accounts. You will have two separate bank account numbers tied to your virtual account. Hence, you will hand out the EURO IBAN to your European customers, and the American bank account number to your customers from the US.
This is enough for a lot of small businesses. The simple, easy to understand user interface of Transferwise is its main selling point, alongside the friction-less onboarding process. However, if you are an e-Resident owning a company in Estonia, you need to take into account some problems.
Problems With Transferwise And Estonian e-Residents
Unfortunately, Transferwise still operates with many limitations usually found on traditional companies and banks, and have not yet fully understood e-Residents and the digital nomad movement. Hence, if you want to use them for your Estonian online business, you need to know certain limitations that might constitute a problem.
First, Transferwise can issue a certificate stating that you have topped up your business account with 2500€. However, this alone won’t serve as proof of share capital contribution. Thus, you would need to convince the authorities that this signed document is, in fact, a proof of that. Until then, you won’t be able to distribute dividends.
Next, about the address of your company. If your company uses PO Box or virtual address services, Transferwise won’t allow you to operate with them. Even if your company is registered physically in a building where other companies reside, you are not eligible for a business Transferwise account. You need to rent private premises for your company, not a shared space.
That may probably be a big problem for you if you are using one of those virtual address providers. So something to keep in mind.
Finally, their borderless account won’t allow your accountant to prepare the tax payments for the Estonian tax authorities. If you have a bank account with LHV, you can appoint someone (your accountant or service provider) to pre-fill your tax payments once they are calculated. That way, all you need to do is accept them with a simple click.
That is not possible as of now with Transferwise. Not a deal breaker, but something to consider.
Holvi is a Finnish company that offers a digital banking solution specifically designed for e-Residents. Their services include a European virtual bank account with a Finnish IBAN number, Swift/BIC code, and a debit card. They also provide some tools like a small invoicing application and an online shop solution but, to be honest, those are very limited and not that useful.
Their real value of Holvi is the fact that they understand e-Residents and digital nomads. You won’t have problems even if you are using a virtual address provider. Also, they are keen on helping with the proof of share capital contribution to be able to distribute dividends.
The main drawback of Holvi is their limitation to Europe and SEPA. Not that you cannot deal with customers or suppliers outside of Europe, but you will have to consider fees and such.
They initially had a quite expensive offer that included a European bank account with a debit card, but at 35€/month. However, they recently lowered their entry fee to 9€/month. Given what you get (the bank account, possibility to register your share capital contribution, a virtual address service friendly banking solution…), I would say it’s well worth the price you pay.
Something to consider: with that initial tier, you get 50 SEPA transfers for free. The rest have a small fee of 0,25€ per transfer. ATM withdrawal is subject to a 2,5% fee. Nonetheless, as your business grows, you can switch to a better tier (with a higher monthly fee) to eliminate those restrictions.
All things considered, probably the strongest offer for European-based e-Residents.
Interesting trivia: Holvi was acquired by the Spanish bank BBVA. So it seems traditional banks are starting to be aware of the digital banking revolution.
Revolut has disrupted the banking industry. They were one of the very first fintech startups to offer virtual bank accounts on multiple currencies.
Their greatest triumph, however, was making the banking experience a pleasure for the users, from opening the virtual accounts to operating with your funds. Their App is super easy to use, and they have managed to come up with a KYC that’s so smooth it’s almost enjoyable.
After a successful start with their personal finances offering, they decided to expand their market and launched Revolut Business. This account basically works exactly like the personal branch but applied to your business. You get the multicurrency account and a debit (prepaid) Mastercard.
They require you to have a “physical presence” in the European Economic Area, but as far as I know, using a virtual address provider is OK. They are actually very open minded and e-Residents friendly.
Revolut for Business is currently available for companies registered and with a physical presence within the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.
Some Caveats To Consider About Revolut Business
First, as in the case of Transferwise, Revolut can issue a certificate stating that you have topped up your business account with 2500€. However, that alone will not be sufficient for distributing dividends. You will need to convince the tax authorities, probably with the help of an accountant or lawyer.
Next, they have an API that could allow your accountant to prepare and pre-fill the tax payments for you. However, someone would need to buy a piece of software to do that. As far as I know, no such piece of software exists currently (a business opportunity?).
The main advantage of Revolut business when compared to Holvi is the fact that you have multiple currency accounts, so you have more options if you make business outside of the SEPA zone.
Probably, its main disadvantage is the price tag. While Holvi starts at 9€/month for e-Residents, the cheapest tier of Revolut business is 25€/month. Also, the Revolut business card, just like the personal one, is a prepaid card. Holvi, on the other hand, offers a normal Mastercard debit card.
LeuPay is the last contestant to join the digital banking arena for the e-Residency market. They offer a multi-user, multi-currency account. The currencies currently supported are Euros, US dollars, British pounds, Swiss francs, Romanian leu, Croatian Kuna, Japanese yen, Bulgarian lev, Polish zloty and Czech crowns.
One of the nicest things about LeuPay is that they offer you twin VISA cards for free, without monthly fees. Most importantly, you can issue them in different currencies (like EUR and US dollars). That’s great for digital nomads and frequent travelers.
While they offer their personal and business banking services regardless of citizenship, like in the case of Revolut Business, there’s an important limitation: you must be resident in one of 60 supported countries. Not surprisingly, all European countries are included, while India or most South American countries are not.
Again, banking solutions fall short to serve the e-Residency community. I am lucky to be European, but still, the possibilities of this amazing project are hampered by the banking and payment solutions available.
In my opinion, what the e-Residency community needs is not another fintech company providing banking services to easy European businesses (such as freelancers or online shops). We need someone who can fill the gaps, such as banking for South American and Asian countries, Estonian banking alternatives for crypto companies, etc.
While there’s no activation or monthly fee (contrarily to services such as Holvi or Revolut Business), their fees are quite high. So high, in fact, that just with a small business, you’ll probably end up paying a lot more than with Holvi or Revolut Business.
As an example, outgoing SEPA bank transfers have a fee of 3.0€. That means that as soon as you have 10 outgoing transfers in Europe, you will pay 30€ with LeuPay, 25€ with Revolut (if your revenue is less than £100K/y) and just 9€ with Holvi. USD transfers get a lot worse, sometimes going over the top.
Hence, my suggestion is thoughtfully checking LeuPay’s fees before signing up.
Unless you can rent or buy a physical space in Estonia for your company or a service provider that gives you a real physical address, Transferwise is not the best solution for e-Residents. Most e-Resident companies make use of a virtual address and as such are not eligible for a Transferwise account.
So, should you go for Holvi or Revolut Business? Depends on your business.
If you operate mainly in the SEPA zone, and your customers are primarily European, I would go for a Holvi account. You get a European bank account in a Finnish bank, a real debit card, and will be working with an e-Residents friendly company. If the transfer limit is a nuisance for you, upgrading to unlimited free transfers is 18€/month, still cheaper than Revolut Business.
If most of your customers are outside of Europe, maybe spread around the world, I would probably go for a Revolut Business account. Make sure to check their pricing for their different subscription tiers. Basically, if you earn less than £100k, that’s 25€/month.
In this article, I compare some digital business banking alternatives for e-Residents owning a company in Estonia. As you may know, choosing a good banking solution for your business is not a trivial matter. Especially if you are an e-Resident owning a company in Estonia, you may want to choose the best option available… And avoid awkward surprises later.
Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
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Years ago, I quit my 9 to 5 job and became a freelancer first, then a solopreneur, and finally a digital nomad. Managing my company back in Spain was a nightmare until I discovered the e-Residency program and opened my company in Estonia. That changed my life.
After some years managing my business, I know the tricks of the trade. I can offer you advice on how to become location independent, found an European company you can manage online while traveling, and avoid unnecessary costs. If you are ready to take the leap, but have some doubts or don't know where to start, let's get in touch.