A central criticism of the decision to seize a portion of the bank accounts in Cyprus is that the “bite” hits small guys who have accounts with a balance of less than E100k. As I write, it appears that there will be some revisions to the deal that was announced over the weekend. Those changes will likely minimize or eliminate the hit on these “smaller” accounts.
It is a travesty (and a crime) if Cypriots who live and work in the country have a portion of their accounts clipped. The small guys were not part of the problem, so they should not have been part of the solution. This obvious conclusion begs the question, “Why did they do it in the first place?” There are two possible answers:
The folks who put the original plan together were a bunch of misinformed idiots. They did not consider the fairness aspect, nor did they consider the deposit rules on E100k sized accounts. The plan was hatched and announced before the big Finance Ministers, politicians and the ECB had a chance to consider the broader Macro issues and the possibility of a deposit run in other EU countries.
Given how so many other aspects of the EU financial story have been mismanaged, there is some possibility that this is how it played out. The whole process was bungled; no one ever considered the contagion risks. It was a complete screw up from beginning to end.
I have a very hard time believing that this scenario is correct. I think all of the EU deciders were involved with the choice. There was consideration of the related risks, the decision was made to go forward in spite of those risks.
Note: It’s my bet that the decision was communicated to key US officials. Bernanke, Jack Lew and Obama were all informed before it was public.
To me, the only possibility for including the sub E100k in the haircut was because many of the smaller accounts, were also hot money accounts from foreign depositors. The folks in the EU must have understood this when they pulled the plug. (That, or we go back to the “idiots” answer)
Note: I have never had a black account in a Cypriot Bank. I have no black accounts, period. Never had. I have no direct knowledge of how black accounts were managed in Cyprus. BUT, I do know how black accounts were/are managed in other hot money havens. I strongly suspect that what happens outside of Cyprus also happens within Cyprus.
Assume you’re a crook of some sort. You have ill gotten gains. Extortion money? Dictator/Politician who stole money from the national treasury? Maybe a pirate, a drug lord or a kidnapper? An Oligarch perhaps? How about a simple jewel thief or bank robber? A tax cheat? Or even just some poor guy who is trying to hide some loot from a wife?
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO YOU?
Access to your money of course. What’s the fun of having a few mil stashed away and not being able to enjoy what that money can bring? You want bling! $5,000 a night hotel suites, 1st class travel all the time, $1000 bottles of wine, $8g for shoes – you can’t have enough of this stuff! And you must have some cash in your pocket. For you, a minimum of $5g in the wallet is necessary. You need to have access to $5g pretty much every day to keep up with all the fun.
How do you do all that? Simple! A credit card tied to a bank is all you need. It’s no regular CC. This one is imbedded with a chip. It’s better than “smart”.
There is no credit involved; behind the CC is a special account. That account is like a checking account. When you hit the VISA for $50k for some bauble, the transaction clears, as there is cash money behind the card. To have the ability to spend serious money on a CC you need a balance of at least $100k in the account. In addition, many banks require that you maintain a minimum amount, say $50k.
How do YOU feed the CC clearing account? Simple! You have on line banking! When inserted into a special reader that you have, the chip produces a one-time code/password, (the code changes every 30 seconds, so log on quick!). The “bank” has a similar code reader device, and it “knows” what that password will be for those thirty seconds. With the account now opened, you can transfer more money to the transaction account. Party on!
Wives/girl friends can get a card too! Those don’t have chips, so you can cut them off at will! Cash is a problem, but with a couple of cards, $4k can be had every twelve hours or so.
What does this cost you? To start with, you must have a couple mil in another account. Call that “key money”. On each CC purchase you make, the bank takes an extra 1% right off the top. Call that a “service fee”. You spend a million on a CC, it costs you $10g – who cares?
Do you live in a City? Pretty much anywhere on the globe? When you walk around today and see all the tourists living it up and shopping like crazy – understand that “hot” cards are a significant portion of that activity. The problem with hot cards is that you don’t want to use them in your home town. That draws attention, and YOU don’t want that, right? So travel well!
AGAIN – I don’t know what happened in Cyprus. However, if a significant number of the “smaller” accounts that are subject to the deposit theft are connected to CC clearing accounts of non-residents, then you have a possible explanation for the actions that were taken.