Updates further enhance Cayman’s appeal

The Cayman Islands has for decades been one of the world’s leading banking and financial centers, currently ranking as the fifth largest banking centre worldwide, with over 200 banks, including 40 of the world’s 50 largest banks, and over US$1.5 trillion in assets. 

As is the case in most sophisticated jurisdictions, the Cayman Islands’ banking regulations are based on prudent and trusted principles, including the international supervisory standards articulated by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

The Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (CIMA) recently updated its Regulatory Policy on Licensing Banks so that the conventions that CIMA has previously applied to an application are now explicitly codified.

  • The Banks and Trust Companies Law (2013 Revision) of the Cayman Islands creates three categories of banking license:
  • an “A” banking license which permits domestic business with residents of the Cayman Islands as well as offshore business;
  • an unrestricted “B” banking license which permits only business conducted outside of the Cayman Islands;
  • and a restricted “B” banking license which is subject to the same limitation as an unrestricted “B” banking license but in addition, the licensee is restricted to a preapproved customer base.

Home and host regulated banks

CIMA has always categorized each type of bank into a further two categories – home regulated banks and host regulated banks – and the updated Policy now clearly reflects the requirements for each type of entity.

Home regulated banks are those banks that are incorporated in the Cayman Islands, are usually independent of a banking group and are primarily regulated by CIMA. Host regulated banks are usually branches or subsidiaries of a foreign parent bank which are ultimately subject to regulation by the parent company’s own home banking regulator.

The approach to host regulated banks reflects the view that primary responsibility for their regulation rests with the regulatory authorities of the foreign parent. If it appears to CIMA that the parent country regulation of a proposed host regulated bank applicant might not be adequate, the applicant may be encouraged to form a Cayman Islands company which would be treated as a home regulated bank instead.

The licensing and continuing regulation of home regulated banks differs from that of host regulated banks in some important respects, such as capital adequacy ratio requirements, financial resources, information that needs to be provided about the key shareholders, financial resources of key shareholders, audit requirements and the bank’s local presence in the Cayman Islands.

Where these distinctions are not set out in the law (or the regulations or regulatory policy promulgated thereunder) these distinctions are now clearly set out in the updated policy. The policy has also been revised to reflect the application details required by CIMA, in particular the contents of the business plan, as well as details about the proposed management of the applicant and its internal systems.

Capital adequacy

It has always been clear that banks which are incorporated in the Cayman Islands must maintain a minimum capital adequacy ratio of 15 percent and branches must maintain a minimum capital adequacy ratio of 12 percent, unless CIMA varies the ratio for a particular licensee if it considers it appropriate to do so given the risks associated with the licensee’s activities. Further, it was always known that a portion of an applicant’s issued capital, in cash or cash equivalent, had to be maintained at a local Cayman Islands retail bank, but the updated policy now expressly sets that requirement at US$500,000 for home regulated banks. This amount cannot be pledged without CIMA’s permission.


CIMA must be able to identify all intermediate and ultimate owners of an applicant and if the group structure of an applicant is overly complex or lacks transparency, this must be fully clarified and explained. The policy now specifically requires all applicants to provide a complete corporate structure chart showing all entities under common ownership, including non-financial entities, rather than just a beneficial ownership chart.

The policy is now clear that information must be provided on any shareholder holding 10 percent or more of the voting power of an applicant or its holding company. If no shareholder holds more than 10 percent, the 10 largest shareholders must be identified. There must be proper controls in place so that policies and procedures may not be overridden by shareholders or senior managers and home regulated banks with two or fewer shareholders must provide details of their succession plan in case of death or incapacity of a shareholder.

Shareholders and financial resources

Under the updated policy, CIMA will also assess the financial resources of the applicant’s owners. For home regulated banks, applications will generally be considered if a shareholder holding more than 20 percent of a class of shares or voting rights has a minimum net worth of the greater of US$10 million (not including prime residence) or five times the value of shares to which that member is subscribing.

For home regulated banks a public accountant must independently verify the financial statements of shareholders. For host regulated banks CIMA will expect to see a satisfactory audit history.

Business plan

CIMA now requires that a more detailed business plan (covering the first three years of activity) be submitted for applications for home regulated banks and host regulated banks. Applicants must demonstrate in their business plan that they have adequate manpower, systems and expertise to implement their objectives and the policy now sets out an extensive list of items which CIMA expect to be addressed in a business plan. In addition to addressing items such as background, financial plans and corporate governance, the policy now requires that criteria such as details of an applicant’s proposed marketing strategy, investment policy, dividend policy, remuneration plan, operational resources, risk management strategy and any reports of feasibility studies be addressed in the business plan.

The reasons for any outsourcing, together with copies of agreements in respect of these arrangements, must also be provided in the business plan. Home regulated banks must carry out rigorous stress tests that identify worst-case scenarios of possible events (over a three year period) and the policy now provides that the results of such tests must be set out in an applicant’s business plan.

Internal systems

Detailed requirements for licensees’ policies, systems and internal controls are set out in further regulations, however the policy expressly stipulates that applicants must provide an overview of their proposed IT governance structure and must demonstrate that they have developed their own Internal Capital Adequacy Assessment Process.


The policy has expanded the “fit and proper” criteria and the criteria for the proposed management of an applicant. The requirements for home regulated banks and host regulated banks are the same in this respect; both types of entities must ensure that there is a clear division of responsibilities between directors and management, so that there is a balance of power and authority.

The updated policy now stipulates that at least two directors of an applicant must have sound banking experience. The updated policy also specifically references the “four eyes” principle, which requires that significant decisions be made by more than one person. CIMA must also be satisfied that, where individuals take on more than one role, these roles are compatible.

The policy also refers to an applicant’s money laundering reporting officer and compliance officer, both of whom, if the role is not carried out by one individual, must be suitably qualified and experienced. The MLRO and compliance officer must be resident in the Cayman Islands and neither role may be outsourced.

Further information

The popularity of the Cayman Islands as a jurisdiction in which to establish a banking structure is based on decades of sound and prudent regulation and Cayman’s key role in the global financial industry. While the majority of Cayman Islands licensed banks are subsidiaries or branches of global financial institutions, we are seeing increased demand from large corporate groups which use banks as an efficient structure to manage global treasury operations, and from diverse financial institutions wishing to serve the high net worth market, particularly in emerging regions. The recently announced policy will further clarify the process for these potential new clients and is a welcome development in a thriving industry.


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Marco Martins

Marco is head of the Harneys’ Latin America practice and a partner in the firm’s Investment Funds Department and he presently splits his time between the Cayman Islands and Montevideo. Marco’s practice encompasses all aspects of corporate, banking and finance related disciplines, with a particular focus on the establishment and restructuring of investment funds. He speaks fluent Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.   

Marco Martins
Partner – Head of Latin American Practice
Harney Westwood & Riegels
3rd Floor, Queensgate House
113 South Church Street
PO Box 10240
Grand Cayman KY1-1002
Cayman Islands

T: +1 (345) 815 2932
E: [email protected]
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Harney Westwood & Riegels is a leading international offshore law firm. We provide the world’s top law firms, financial institutions and corporations with legal services relating to British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cyprus and Anguilla law.

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Harneys’ associated corporate and private wealth services business, Harneys Services, delivers a full complement of company, trust, and fund formation and administration services in the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands. We hold a Class 1 Trust License and offer a broad range of fund, trusts, and fiduciary services. 
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113 South Church Street
PO Box 10240
Grand Cayman
Cayman Islands
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email: [email protected]