New report reveals prominent role of tax havens for banks

Banks in France are relying heavily on tax havens to increase their profits, according to a study based on new data that for the first time allows a proper analysis of the role that tax havens play in European business.

The five banks investigated in today’s new study disclosed having 16 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands alone – with no staff – from which they still declare €45 million in profits.

The study by Oxfam, CCFD-Terre Solidaire and Secours Catholique-Caritas shows that the “big five” French banks make a third of their international profits in tax havens –  close to €5 billion – even though they pay only a fifth of their taxes to these jurisdictions (€825 million).

The report also highlights that subsidiaries in tax havens are on the average 60% more lucrative for banks than those elsewhere. For every €1000 of turnover, for example, Société Générale declares profits of €557 in tax havens – compared to €144 of profits declared in other countries - just €34 in France itself.

Oxfam’s analysis further reveals that the banks’ most risky and speculative activities, such as portfolio management or structured finance instruments based on derivatives are almost always located in tax havens.

A two-year-old EU law now requires banks to disclose basic information on their activities and the taxes they pay within each country they operate. France is the first to have translated this provision into national law.

The report “Following the Money: French Banks' Activities in Tax Havens” uses this data to analyse international activities of the five largest banks in France – BNP Paribas, BPCE, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole, and Crédit Mutuel - CIC.

The report highlights the disconnection between profits and taxes, and the role tax havens play for companies in avoiding higher tax bills, for example:

  • The five banks investigated declare a third of their international profits in tax havens (€4.907 billion out of a total of €15.349 billion), even though their business in these jurisdictions represents only a quarter of their international turnover (€13.540 billion of €53.054 billion), a fifth of their taxes paid (€825 million compared with €4.043 billion), and only a sixth of their staff (42,968 of 263,893).
  • “Profits per employee” is a clear indicator of how much money is channelled through tax havens, with employees working in tax havens appearing 2.6 times as “productive” to the banks as staff who are working elsewhere.
  • In 34 cases, banks have subsidiaries in offshore territories that have no staff at all. In the Cayman Islands, the five French banks disclose a total of 16 subsidiaries which generate €45 million in profits without a single employee..
  • The French banks concerned are paying half the effective rate of tax in these secrecy jurisdictions compared to the rates they are subjected to in other countries. In 19 cases, French banks even pay no tax at all in tax havens, although they declare profits there.

“It was shocking to realise the sheer volume of money that banks are routing through tax havens to maximise their profits when we investigated this new data. We are sure that banks and big businesses in other European countries will be doing the same,” said Manon Aubry, advocacy adviser at Oxfam France.

"This is the first transparency exercise that can be conducted on the basis of data that has been made available and publically accessible thanks to new legislation. Although reporting is still not perfect, they reveal that public disclosure of basic business information is feasible and beneficial to better understand the activities of banks in tax havens. It is clearly a first step to fight tax dodging,” Aubry added.

“Under current legislation, only banks are required to report on a country-by-country basis and make this information available to the public. This requirement must be extended to apply to all multinationals. Our parliaments, the press and all citizens have the right to know which companies are paying their fair share of tax. How many more tax scandals are necessary for EU governments to want to unmask aggressive tax planning strategies of multinationals?” said Lucie Watrinet, advocacy adviser at CCFD-Terre Solidaire.

The European Commission is currently considering legislation to extend public country-by-country reporting to all sectors, with a proposal to be announced in April. 

“Citizens are tired of seeing how big companies abuse weak legislation to set up tricky accounting schemes and pay very little tax. Public services in both Europe and developing countries are lacking vital resources for services such as health care and education, while ordinary citizens carry a heavier tax burden. It is time for decisive EU action to stop this shameless trickery of large companies”, Watrinet added.

“All eyes are now on the European Commission from whom we expect an ambitious proposal that pioneers real tax transparency. This includes clear rules for companies to break down their reported figures country by country on a global level to capture the full picture of their business in international tax havens. It is not sufficient to restrict these reports to subsidiaries in the EU, as the European Commission is currently expected to propose,” Aurore Chardonnet, EU policy adviser at Oxfam International, concluded.

Notes to editors

  • See the full report in English or French.
  • The analysis is based on the data set provided in this Excel file.
  • This study follows an earlier report (available in French only) which analysed information published by banks in 2014. At this time, banks had to disclose only three of the six categories of information that are currently required for public country-by-country reporting.
  • In March 2013, the French Parliament laid the foundation for country-by-country reporting, requiring French banks to publish information about their activities (turnover, number of employees and list of subsidiaries) in all countries where they operate. In June 2013, the same requirement was introduced at European level with the Capital requirements directive (CRD IV); the directive also requires reports on profits, taxes paid and subsidies received. The French banking law translating these rules in national law was adopted in July 2013.

Methodology:

  • The information used in this report has been drawn from the 2014 company statements of the five largest French banking groups - BNP Paribas, BPCE, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole, and Crédit Mutuel-CIC. These documents include reports on a country-by-country basis on the following elements: name(s), nature of activities and geographical location; turnover; number of employees on a full time equivalent basis; profit or loss before tax; tax on profit or loss; public subsidies received.
  • This information was used to calculate and compare a number of indicators (detailed in the appendix of the report). This allowed us to compare activities taking place in tax havens and the rest of the world.
  • This study is based on a list of 60 territories qualified as tax havens compiled by the Tax Justice Network in 2009. It lists jurisdictions that have been identified at least twice as being tax havens in lists produced by organizations, academic research, and specialist authors between 1970 and 2009.
  • The current format of country-by-country reports format are not sufficiently detailed to identify which subsidiaries and activities are linked to specific territories such as Delaware for the US, the City of London for the UK and Madeira for Portugal. Therefore the above mentioned countries have been removed from the list for the purpose of this study.

The full methodology is available in Annex 1 of the report.

  • On 8 March 2016, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN), has agreed to the 4th Directive on Administrative Cooperation (DAC4), which includes an amendment requiring multinationals to report, among other things, on their revenues, profits, taxes paid and number of employees in each country where they operate. However, these rules foresee non-public country-by-country reporting: reports will only be shared with tax authorities, but will not be opened to public scrutiny.
  • The European Commission is currently conducting an impact assessment on the benefits of public country-by-country reporting following a 3-months public consultation. The assessment, together with a legislative proposal, is expected to be released in April.
  • In March 2015, Oxfam published “Pulling the Plug – How to stop corporate tax dodging in Europe and beyond”, a briefing note that explores some of the ways to fight corporate tax avoidance in the European Union. The paper explains why the adoption of legislation against tax dodging as soon as possible is vital for the EU.
  • On 18 January 2016, Oxfam published “An economy for the 1%”, a report showing that the 62 richest people own as much as our planet’s poorest 50 percent. It also explores the role of tax haven on the rise of inequality.

Contact information

Florian Oel, Oxfam EU Office, florian.oel@oxfaminternational.org,
t +32 2 234 11 15, m +32 473 56 22 60

Marion Cosperec, Oxfam France, mcosperec@oxfamfrance.org,
t +33 1 77 35 76 00, m +33 7 68 30 06 17

Karine Appy, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, k.appy@ccfd-terresolidaire.org,
t +33 1 44 82 80 67, m +33 6 66 12 33 02

For updates, please follow @Oxfam, @OxfamEU and @ccfd_tsolidaire.