Once you’ve gone through all the steps and registered your company, you’ll likely be looking for a bank to help handle your financial affairs. Japanese banks, especially the larger ones, often have dedicated corporate banking services. Until very recently, this would have been limited to one of the “big three” Japanese banks: Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), Mitsubishi UFJ Group (MUFG), and Mizuho Bank Ltd. (Mizuho). However, in recent times several smaller challenger banks have begun branching into corporate banking. The offerings and requirements of each bank can vary significantly, and this article will give you an idea of what you can expect when opening a corporate account, starting with the big three.
What you’ll need to open an account:
Banks will not let you open a corporate account without your notarized Registration Documents or tōkibotōhon (登記簿謄本). Applications for corporate accounts will almost always request a copy of it in some format. Therefore, it is best to have a copy on hand and formatted correctly to ensure you can provide anything the bank may ask you for. You will also be asked for a copy of your Seal Registration certificate or Hōjin no Inkan shōmeisho (法人の印鑑証明書) and will need the seals themselves to stamp documentation.
The person who opens the account (who should be a company official, and ideally the Representative Director) will need to provide a form of identification such as a Drivers’ License, Passport, or Residence card. They should have two forms of ID out of caution, with the originals and copies both to hand.
While the previous items are mandatory between all the banks in this article, be aware some may ask for extra documentation during the application process. You might be asked for further proof of identity and residence, details about the nature and type of company, and even the lease on your business premises. Be prepared for anything!
The Big Three Banks
SMBC may be a foreign business’ first thought, considering their English support for personal banking is perhaps the best of the big three. Unfortunately, that support isn’t present for corporate banking, with all the banks on this list only offering Japanese services.
SMBC’s corporate accounts (Link in Japanese) can be opened in one of two ways: online or in branch. Online-only is a recent introduction and is offered by a limited number of branches. The branch you open your account at must be the closest branch to either the office listed on your tōkibotōhon, or another of your business premises. Regardless of how you apply, SMBC will request your Seal Registration certificate, Certificate of all Historical matters (Rireki Jikou Zenbu Shomeisho or 履歴事項全部証明書) which is a particular formatting of your incorporation paperwork, and the lease for your main office. The person opening the account will also require their Personal Identification. These documents will need to be mailed or uploaded, with the bank branch then informing the applicant of the next steps in the procedure. SMBC estimates that the procedure can take up to a month, especially during busy periods.
Corporate accounts opened online will automatically be enrolled in WEB21, (Link in Japanese) SMBC’s internet banking service, with in store applications also having the option to enrol. The fee for internet banking is variable, from monthly fees of ¥22,000 for full-service accounts to ¥650 for their basic internet banking service for small businesses. Transfer fees to other SMBC accounts fluctuate, with online transfer requests capped at ¥440. (Link in Japanese). Transferring money to other banks, in contrast, peaks at ¥660 for large online transfers. These transfers can be performed at ATM’s, in a web browser, or with SMBC’s newly launched WEB21 App. Oddly enough, the same transfer can incur different fees depending on where you decide to perform them – a transaction to a different bank can cost ¥495 online, but only ¥275 at an ATM! (Link in Japanese)
- Potentially quick and hassle-free online account creation
- Flexibility in Internet Banking Services with value-oriented options for smaller businesses
- Cheapest option for online banking, although this is very limited
- More documentation required – SMBC also asks for leasing documents and limits where you can open your account
- Long waits times – over a month if the bank is busy
MUFG’s offerings in the corporate banking niche (Link in Japanese) bear a resemblance to SMBC’s, with some minor changes in detailing. Your options for opening an account are identical, with a more traditional in-branch process and a more recent fully virtual procedure if your branch has it available. This branch must also be the closest to your business premises. Unlike SMBC, however, the online procedure requires more than paperwork, with a full interview being conducted by a staff member (Link in Japanese). You will need a copy of your Seal Registration Certificate, Certificate of all Historical matters, and ID for the company representative and interviewee (if separate people) at a minimum. These will need to be sent as part of the application process. MUFG estimates that the procedure will take, at most, 4 weeks from application to completion.
MUFG’s online business banking component, BizStation (Link in Japanese), is less flexible than SMBC in its options – it is one identical package for all corporate accounts. The online banking application is not embedded into the account application as is the case with SMBC and Mizuho and can be an extensive procedure with requests for several documents from applicants. BizStation is offered on browsers and app (although you are locked in to your choice of OS after application!) with a monthly fee of ¥1,760 after three months for the service (Link in Japanese). Though transfers can theoretically be performed 24 hours a day, BizStation has scheduled processing times, with the service not processing payments between midnight and 8:00 am (Link in Japanese), and transfers after 3:00pm. Fees for these transfers are fixed, capping at ¥660 for a large transfer to another bank. Like SMBC, this convenience comes at a price – a comparable transaction performed at an ATM will cost only ¥330. (Link in Japanese)
- Quickest process to get started – MUFG accepts same day walk-in applications
- Best balance between Online banking cost and functionality
- Online interview is relatively straightforward and quick to arrange
- Online banking has a long, demanding application process
- Outages and set processing times can be inconvenient, despite the convenience of online banking.
- Extremely outdated interface in browser
Mizuho is the last of the “big three” banks in Japan, and also offers a comprehensive corporate banking service. (Link in Japanese)
Their procedures for opening an account mirror MUFG, with an in-branch option and a virtual process (Link in Japanese). Like MUFG, the online process involves scheduling an interview with a branch employee. The procedure is more efficient with Mizuho, however, as there is more flexibility in choosing a branch where you can open your account. As you can also open an account at the branch nearest the Representative Director’s home, the likelihood of having a fully virtual process is higher. Furthermore, Mizuho requires less paperwork than either SMBC or MUFG (Link in Japanese), and only requests presentation of the tōkibotōhon during the interview, and submission of ID from the representative and/or interviewee. Mizuho estimates that the account will be opened a week after this initial interview, but interview wait times can be several days, and requests for more documentation can delay the process.
Corporate accounts are also eligible to use Mizuho’s internet banking service, Mizuho Business WEB, with the fully virtual process making it mandatory. The service shares the outage times of MUFG, with usage times stopping at 11:00pm and 6:00pm for payments and transfers respectively. The monthly fee for the service is ¥3,300 a month, with the first three months free.(Link in Japanese) Uniquely, Mizuho charges less for the use of its internet banking for transfers compared to ATM’s. A small transfer to another bank costs ¥710 at the counter, ¥380 at an ATM, and only ¥150 (Link in Japanese) when done online, offsetting the more expensive monthly service fee somewhat.
- Cheapest when making transfers with online banking
- Relatively swift process in the best-case scenario – least paperwork and speediest
- Greater flexibility in choice of main branch
- Most expensive monthly fee for Online Banking
- No app, most limited Online Banking service
- Online system is notoriously unreliable (Link in Japanese)
Generally, the three previously mentioned banks would be your only choices for corporate banking. However, other banks also have services and accounts aimed at businesses, occasionally with better rates and services designed to attract clients disillusioned with the service provided by the big three. Two such banks are Resona Bank and Japan Post Bank.
Resona Bank is an Osaka-based bank that has been around for over a century. Despite not being one of the big three, they have a multitude of branches spread across the country and have offered a corporate account for several years.
The biggest challenge Resona presents to the big three is that of efficiency in account application and processing. Resona’s application process is primarily web-based, and the procedure can take as little as a week and a half (Link in Japanese) with expedient posting in the major metropolitan areas. Documents are attached as part of an initial web-based application form, and only need to be sent if the application is approved. This “pre-approval” and the lower demand ensures swift results for applicants – a benefit when time is of the essence.
However, despite Resona not needing documentation immediately, when they do require it, they ask for more than almost any other bank on this list (Link in Japanese). A Seal Registration certificate and Certificate of All Historical matters dated within three months, as opposed to the usual six, as well as two pieces of identification for the representative opening the account and the main business premises lease are requested from all customers.
Resona also enrolls all online applications automatically onto its online banking system: Resona Business Direct. This online banking service operates on most browsers and has an app for smartphones but comes with one of the heftier price tags on this list (Link in Japanese) – ¥7,700 for the full service, or ¥3,300 for the more limited “mini” version. As with MUFG and Mizuho, the system has regular outages on transfers and payments (Link in Japanese) from midnight to 7:00 am on weekdays, and 10:00pm and 8:00am on weekends. Transfer fees themselves are simple to remember (Link in Japanese), with a transfer to accounts at other Resona branches costing ¥330, and other banks ¥605. These fees are broadly similar to the fees paid at ATM’s for transfers, making online banking both economical and convenient.
- Very efficient account opening procedure, can take as little as 10 days
- Well-located for businesses in major metropolitan areas
- App and well-designed online banking allow for streamlined financial management
- Requires the most documentation of any bank, extremely paperwork heavy application process
- Online banking service is expensive and may not be economical for smaller businesses
Japan Post Bank
Japan Post Bank, or Yucho Bank, is the banking arm of Japan Post Holdings, whose majority stakeholder is the government of Japan. As such, banking with Japan Post Bank may be considered the equivalent of banking with the government bank. Japan Post Bank has offered corporate banking services (Link in Japanese) for over two decades but offers little in the way of strong challenges to the big three banks.
Japan Post Bank does not have an online application system, but rather requires applicants to fill out a form to open a corporate account and deliver it to a branch, alongside a bevy of documentation (Link in Japanese) that rivals Resona Bank’s requests. You will need to bring your original Registration Documents, two pieces of ID, corporate number, original certificate of Seal Registration, a list of company officials, balance and income sheets, a lease for your main business premises, and a copy of the Representative Director’s residence card if they are not a Japanese national. Once these have all been received, Japan Post Bank will conduct an examination of the documentation. They estimate that it will take a minimum of four weeks to decide on your application but may take longer during public holidays and periods of high demand.
Japan Post Bank also offers an online banking service for corporate customers, Yucho Biz Direct (Link in Japanese). This is a browser only service, which must be applied for separately through a similar in-person procedure at a Japan Post branch. The monthly service fee for Yucho Biz Direct depends on your choice of plan, (Link in Japanese) with the basic plan costing ¥5,500 initially, followed by ¥550 monthly, and the expanded expert plan priced at ¥11,000 as a contract fee followed by a monthly ¥1,100. Both plans give access to transfers, withdrawals, and deposits. However, the expert plan provides tools for larger businesses, such as salary transfers and automatic payments. All transfers are subject to an outage time between 11:30pm and 8:00am (Link in Japanese), except on occasional holidays. The transfer fees for Yucho Biz Direct are very low (Link in Japanese), with transfers to external banks only being priced at ¥165 – good value for a business that may find itself making regular transfers.
- Low transfer fees with Online Banking
- High level of scrutiny results in very low rejection rate
- Relatively cheap monthly fees for Online Banking
- Application is extremely inefficient and laborious
- Online banking system is archaic
While it may seem that these banks are far more similar than they are different, it’s definitely worth taking the time to think and research which bank meets your needs most effectively. From not waiting months to hear if your account application has been accepted, to seeing your money trickle away with each transfer, paying attention to the fine print with these banks could add up to plenty of saved money, time and hassle.