HOT TOPICS:   Election 2014  |    Fonterra   |  Home loans                                             RESOURCES:    Economic calendar   |  Fix or float calculator

The comment stream

Recent comments

Reader poll

When do you think the Reserve Bank will resume increasing the Official Cash Rate?

Choices
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
13 + 2 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

Join the Interest community to be a registered commenter so you can:
- Edit your comments
- Avoid the CAPTCHA
- Vote on comments
Register Here

Already registered? log back in here ..

Forgotten your password? No problem! Click here

General Equity, no ordinary New Zealand building society

Posted in News

By Gareth Vaughan

You're registered as a New Zealand building society and your headquarters, a building you've taken out naming rights on, is located in downtown Auckland.

However, the fourth floor offices that apparently serve as yours contain brochures at reception promoting casual office, executive boardroom and meeting room hire. On top of this your client services manager has a separate business card, also available from reception, describing her as the operations and marketing manager for CBD Office Ltd, a "provider of tailored office solutions". 

Apparently you don't offer financial services within NZ, have links to something described as algae to hydrocarbon intellectual property, and manage a fund that allegedly has US$6.2 billion of investment holdings comprising gold, nickel, silver, oil and gas refining technology and granite.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the General Equity Building Society (GEBS). 

Regular interest.co.nz readers may remember GEBS previously featuring in a story of ours alongside two other NZ registered, but overseas operating, building societies in Kiwi Deposit Building Society and Safe and Sound Building Society.

GEBS isn't your typical NZ building society, which is something akin to a conservative, regional, member owned financial services provider offering home loans and term deposits.

GEBS has recently taken out naming rights on number 17 Albert Street in Auckland's Central Business District. This is a high rise building that's slap, bang next door to the recently refurbished ANZ Tower which serves as headquarters for the country's biggest bank, - ANZ NZ.

What's now known as General Equity House is apparently the head office of a financial services provider with representatives in, or covering, Japan, Ghana, India, Kenya, USA, Cyprus, Greece, Dubai, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.

No regulatory oversight

GEBS is registered through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment run Building Society Register. It's also registered on the Financial Services Providers Register, with Financial Services Complaints Ltd named as its dispute resolution scheme, something that's a prerequisite if an entity offers, or wants to offer, financial services to NZ retail investors.

However, GEBS was named as one of five entities not regarded as a deposit taker under part 5D of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act in late 2011. That means it's not allowed to take deposits from the NZ public. It also means it doesn't have to comply with prudential requirements covering credit ratings, governance, risk management, capital, related party exposure limits or liquidity.

But it does leave GEBS free to offer financial services overseas, trading on NZ's good reputation. And the Reserve Bank says it's not in a position to monitor transactions undertaken by NZ registered building societies, such as GEBS, that operate in overseas markets.

On its website GEBS says "currently" no services are provided to people in NZ, and that it's currently not a deposit taker for NZ residents. However, on a visit by interest.co.nz to 17 Albert Street, the building society's client services manager, Annieliza Snow, suggested GEBS may actually provide services to New Zealanders. But she wouldn't detail them.

Snow, meanwhile, is also the operating and marketing manager for CBD Office Ltd, whose shareholders and directors are listed as Mark Bayoud and John Peter Kortum. Kortum and Bayoud are GEBS directors. According to Companies Office records both are resident in Malaysia.

Along with two other key players at GEBS, Anthony James Scott and Brian Joseph McGrath - the latter was the Lord Mayor of the Victorian town of Horsham from 1974-75 - Kortum hails from Melbourne.

GEBS' website, which offers 5% interest on term deposits of over US$100,000, says its services include private and corporate accounts, due diligence services, establishing NZ and international trusts, trade finance and credit facilities, general insurance services, instruments verification, and online banking.

The Kiwibank & BNZ connections

The website also offers what it describes as a loaded Visa debit card with information provided in English and Japanese. GEBS says Kiwibank is the issuer of the cards.

Asked about this a Kiwibank spokesman told interest.co.nz the card being promoted by GEBS is a generic pre-paid Visa card known as a Loaded Everyday card.

"It is a New Zealand Post/Kiwibank product offered through the Post/Kiwibank network. It carries no credit risk for the bank or Post, but enables the user to make purchases or services using their own funds," the Kiwibank spokesman said.

GEBS says it also has a nostro account service "with National Australia Bank via (NAB's NZ subsidiary) Bank of New Zealand." A nostro account is a bank account held in a foreign country by a domestic bank, denominated in the currency of that country. Nostro accounts can be used to facilitate settlement of foreign exchange and trade transactions.

A BNZ spokeswoman said she couldn't confirm whether GEBS was a BNZ client or not due to BNZ's confidentiality policies.

In total GEBS says it has established relationships with over 135 banks, including additional nostro accounts with Germany's Commerzbank and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. It's also connected to SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.

US$6.2 bln of investments in gold, silver, nickel, quarry assets & refining technology

GEBS is the trustee and manager of an entity known as the General Equity Building Society Asset Builder Fund 1. GEBS says its mandate in managing this fund is to write trade finance business for members and clients located around the world including in the United States, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Russia, China, Asia and Oceania.

 Kortum and Steven Adrian Hensen, another GEBS director, are listed as the fund's managers.

The General Equity Building Society Asset Builder Fund 1 claimed to hold US$6.2 billion worth of investment holdings as of June 30, 2012. The Fund's annual report says this is an annual increase of US$758.735 million, with shareholding interests in gold, silver and quarry assets, plus nickel and refining technology. No specific details of the investments are provided.

In its 2012 financial year GEBS says income generated by GEBS from trade finance products was US$637,000.

*Pictured right, top left McGrath, right Kortum, bottom left Scott, right Bayoud.

A building society with a parent company

There are at least four companies affiliated to GEBS registered with the NZ Companies Office. These are General Equity Trustee Services Ltd, General Equity Services Ltd, GEAP Ltd, and Nippon Asia Holdings Ltd. Their directors and shareholders include GEBS directors Bayoud, Kortum, McGrath and Ambrose Chan, plus other entities and individuals based in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and the British Virgin Islands.

For the year to March 31, 2012, GEBS says it made a profit of US$681,306, and had equity of just under US$3.2 million, and total assets of US$8 million at March 31 last year when member deposits stood at US$3.37 million.

GEBS says it has a guarantee of its present and future debts up to US$15 million from the General Equity Building Society Asset Builder Fund 1 running for approximately 18 months from March 31, 2012. Its last annual report also says six million preference shares issued in March 2010, valued at US$4.25 million, make an entity called General Equity Services (Hong Kong) Ltd GEBS' parent company.

The annual accounts are given a clean bill of health by auditor Lawler Draper Dillon of Melbourne.

An ASIC ban & what we want to know

As reported in our previous GEBS story, Anthony James Scott, now described as senior legal advisor, resigned as GEBS' secretary on August 10, 2009, the day before a man of the same name was banned by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) from managing a corporation for 18 months. Scott resigned as a GEBS director on September 9, 2009.

In email correspondence with interest.co.nz Scott hasn't answered the question of whether he is the same Anthony Scott who received the ASIC ban. Last year he said GEBS' policy was not to give interviews to the media. In response to questions over the past week, Scott says he has forwarded them to GEBS' directors for their attention. He's now offering a meeting with Bayoud and GEBS' chairman Murray Greer.

Questions interest.co.nz wants to ask them include; whether GEBS does offer any services within NZ to New Zealanders, and why they want naming rights on a central Auckland building. We also want to know whether they can provide detail on assets and investments purportedly held by the General Equity Building Society Asset Builder Fund including locations and specific names of any mines or companies involved.

We also want to ask why, given key members of the GEBS hierarchy appear to be Australians, they chose to incorporate a building society in NZ.

Number 17 Albert Street is a body corporate and is managed by Crockers Body Corporate Management. David Herron, the Crockers account manager who looks after the property, referred questions on how GEBS got naming rights and what it's paying for them to GEBS.

Algae to hydrocarbon intellectual property

The annual report says GEBS has lent money to related parties including Hong Kong private equity group WWCC Ltd. If these parties can't repay the money owed, which is put at about US$7.4 million, and it can't extract estimated values from a 55% stake in algae to hydrocarbon intellectual property developed by WWCC Ltd and Adelaide's Flinders University and said to be worth at least A$34 million, there will be in a negative net asset position and GEBS may not be able to repay member deposits as they fall due.

In our previous GEBS story we reported that a mutual fund had been established in the Cayman Islands by WWCC Ltd to raise US$50 million for 10% of this algae to hydrocarbon intellectual property. In its latest annual report GEBS says numerous potential income streams have been identified from the intellectual property but not yet valued, and patents have been granted in the US and elsewhere.

This article was first published in our email for paid subscribers. See here for more details and to subscribe.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment in the box on the right or click on the "'Register" link at the bottom of the comments.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current Comment policy is here.

18 Comments

So, what is this article

So, what is this article about ? What is the takeaway from this ? Thanks.

You really cant see? Wanna

You really cant see?
Wanna buy a nice bridge in Brooklyn?
regards

Corporates in the West have

Corporates in the West have been exposed many times to be involved in such shenanigans. Remember South Canterbury Finance and how the government rode to the rescue..There are heaps of political connections to these kinds of set-ups..The Bridge in Brooklyn is probably now owned by one such corporation already. What does it matter ? Democracy is stealing by the few connected. 

NZ regulators asleep at the

NZ regulators asleep at the wheel.

WTF our country's a joke this

WTF our country's a joke this is an absolute crock of s***! 
why are these people always shown as creepy midddle-aged men? 
I see a pattern forming here.......

Oi , on behalf of the 

Oi , on behalf of the  overweight pasty-white male-pattern-balding middle-aged men of the world , we aren't all crooks .....
 
..... creepy yes , but not necessarily crooks ....

Very funny Gummy bear

Very funny Gummy bear hero,
Mate i dont know what the issue with us middle aged men ? and why are they say these guys are crooks i dont see anything to be worried about ?I just wonder where this guy is getting his info from ?? thats really not the right thing to be saying here as as far as anyone knows they not done anything wrong i know the new report makes them seem like they are in a bad light but as i said i have been banking with them for sometime and they are all great people.
well we not all creepy you know !! well thanks for standing up for us older guys mate well done.

care to explain your nice

care to explain your nice massage here have these guys taking your money and run away is that why you’re calling them crocks what did they eat of yours to earn this title ??? i just want to understand what’s this is all about ? and why your making up stuff the really strange thing is us people who have money in the group are all happy and you guys who i think never even met them or invested with them are having all these issue ??? Care to explain to us normal people ? or you all just like to bitch because you have nothing better to do ?

Since when was converting

Since when was converting algae into hydrocarbons deemed to be lower investment grade than a hole in the ground in Queenstown ? ........
 
...... these guys are no worse than Hanover ....
 
And a link to the Caymans chucked in gratis ......you  can't lose , mate !

Yeah it’s a great idea to

Yeah it’s a great idea to invest in renewable energy as the world needs. I am proud to say that with a big group of my mates we where one of the first investors in this algae tec which could change the world for the better !
Not sure why GE getting all this bad press here? as they have been good with all the people that i have intro over the last 4 to 5 years?
not sure where all this is coming from ? the investors have seen very good valuations on the bio tec in algae from Capstone in Australia for the world market to be between 500 Million AUD and to one day grow to 1.7 billion AUD i think that’s amazing and hope it works out for all of the investors as it’s a great idea. 
If you want to know more about it you can go the the WWCC website and see all the cool news stories on it http://wwcc-energy.com/ anyway its a good read on what could happen one day.

"could"  The thing to look at

"could" 
The thing to look at is the energy density over time and cost to get that. Algae is produced from the sun's warmth watts/metre2, per annum. You have to build plant to re-produce it in, collect it and process it  Fossil oil is essentially the same thing but it was collected over many millions of years and the conversion was done for you. Whats left is to get it out of the ground and convert it.  So not only is oil dense energy the hard work has been done for you.  Just try and get algae to perform anywhere near that...."could"
regards
 
 
 

Yeah I agree with Smockey !!!

Yeah I agree with Smockey !!! what's this really about  have been banking with this group since 2008 and hold multicurrency accounts with them and they really do well for me getting the best rate of return on my money better then all the other leading banks in the area.
I hope this no some kind of picking on middle age finance guys as i am middle age and don't think that's reason enough to with about a group that's been around for sometime with no real issues.
The good thing about these group is they now have around 200 different banks relationships so it helps me to business anywhere in the world without any issues and very fast also.
I have fixed deposits that i was lucky to get into in the early days that had paid me over 5% on my USD that's super returns and i invested in their trade Finance products also and getting a nice return on that so Thank you General Equity you guys and top at what you do please don't let this get to you guys.
Oh by the way love the new sign on your building it looks great guys I with for the long term and so are my mates that I introduced you too.
Just keep doing you good job. PS I want to file down to see your guys as soon as i can get some free time.

Gareth Vaughan .. here you

Gareth Vaughan .. here you go
check this out .. not a local .. connect .. advertising .. ding .. ding .. where the money is going
http://www.interest.co.nz/property/65786/qv-says-average-house-price-has-risen-445247-441254-auckland-prices-128#comment-746849

Mate your two otherguys what

Mate your two otherguys what are you on about where what money is going ??? your seem to be 100% against people investing in NZ??? And it would seem like this is why GE is under attract??? Because they are not all locals mate the group top man is from New Zealand and so are their workers in their office? Did you know that Australia owns most of the banking system in  NZ and there 1000 of people from NZ living in Australia without an issue investing and buying stuff so what’s your problem??
I want to know what’s really going on he as i don’t really like it if you’re a bunch of anti-foreigner investment guys just say it out ?? Mate just come clean ok we all are just trying to read and learn more on this site without all the nasty stuff !

Now why would an obvious

Now why would an obvious spinner - albeit a linguistically-impaired one - need to come in swinging like that?
 
Mate.

Well either an obvious

Well either an obvious setup...or ass covering...looking at the IP address of where the post came from might prove interesting.
Aside from that algae is still no where...mate
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/08/algae-biofuels-idUSL6N0G93EQ20130808
"FCC Aquilia has also ruled out some of its earlier ideas for producing biodiesel after it proved unsustainable." no sh** sherlock....
"Experts say costs must be cut dramatically to make production commercially viable and the U.S. National Research Council has said the technology only had the potential to generate a tiny percentage of U.S. transport needs and would need to use enormous quantities of water to do so..8><--....Exxon Mobil Corp.....8><---........has already invested more than $100 million but has failed to produce economically viable results after four years' work."

http://www.michigandaily.com/news/using-algae-biofuel
"fuel replacement to petroleum as biofuel from algae is expected to cost around $20 per gallon."
and americans cant even pay $4 easily....so we need to see a 5 fold drop in cost.  For the EU they can probably manage $8US equiv OK...
Yes a great investment that....

G'day to you Steven mate

G'day to you Steven mate what’s with all the interest in my comments and looking for the IP address??? and whats with the ass covering story??? The only set up seems like too many negative people on this site looking to bring others down it would seem to me!! Mate we you have invested in a group and believe in what they are doing well you can get a little passionate when you invest in something. from all the people who have no real idea trying to knock them down for no real reason it’s like its one big game to you guys?? what is in it for you to put down others hard work and ideas did you even take the time to study what they are doing and get the info from the top scientist that have put their life’s work into it???
What they are doing with this bio fuel tec is very different to all the stuff your been looking at so cool it down a bit and if you’re really interest in know more than you can go to the website and ask all you need to get an idea, one thing I have learn in life it’s too easy to put people down and be a knocker of all others do in my mind it’s better to take the time to learn and not be to quick to judge others.
So wishing all a super weekend!!
Rgds
BP
PS please guys don’t make this personal keep it simple and within the facts

it’s simple mate when you

it’s simple mate when you have been banking with this group for a long time and have your hard earned money you can stand up for what you believe in that’s all let’s just keep it simple i sure if i told all the other mates of mine who are also banking with this group they would say the something as i have.
So mate no real spin club here just good old faction standing up to misinformation!
PS please guys don’t make this personal keep it simple and within the facts