Basis banking service now also available for enterprises

On 23 October 2020, the Belgian Parliament has approved a law which makes a basic banking service available for enterprises (including self-employed persons, companies and non-profit associations), something which private persons have enjoyed for 15 years.
In multiple sectors (especially the diamond, gaming, restaurant, and football sectors) entrepreneurs frequently have difficulties to find a financial institution which is ready to provide a minimum of banking services. After all, financial institutions are hesitant to do so as they find it more difficult to identify their potential client and comply with anti-money laundering regulations when working with these sectors. In many cases entire categories of enterprises are even entirely left without any services. This is problematic as a company cannot be incorporated or a business cannot be started in Belgium without having access to a bank account.

Thanks to the new law an enterprise located in Belgium which is registered with the Belgian commercial register, or which requests such registration, may have a right to obtain a basic banking service after having been refused at least three times by a financial institution to receive access to a minimum of banking services.

Such refusal must be motivated by a financial institution and sent to the enterprise within 10 business days following the receipt of the request. An enterprise can be refused as a customer based on anti-money laundering regulations, or when it already maintains a bank account in Belgium or in another member state of the European Union which grants access to a minimum of banking services.
After three of such refusals, the enterprise can request a basic banking service at the chamber for basic banking service of the Federal Public Service of Economy which will request advice from the Financial Information Processing Unit (FIPU). Pursuant to a positive advice of the FIPU – or a lack of reaction within 60 days -, the chamber for basic banking service shall appoint a provider of basic banking services, which can only refuse such appointment based on limited grounds.

The basic banking service will allow enterprises to conduct simple payment transactions, such as direct debits, cash deposits and bank transfers. The service will be offered in euro or, at the enterprises’s request, in US dollar. Enterprises must be able to enjoy these services both physically (in the bank itself or at an ATM) and online. A debit card should therefore be made available. However, no credit may be provided under the basic banking service.
The new law will enter into force 6 months after its date of publication, giving banks enough time to prepare themselves.

If you have any further questions regarding the new basic banking service for enterprises, please contact our finance partner Dieter Veestraeten at dve@astrealaw.be.

Op 23 oktober 2020 heeft de Kamer een wetsvoorstel goedgekeurd dat ook voor ondernemingen (zowel zelfstandigen, vennootschappen als vzw’s) de deur opent naar een basisbankdienst zoals deze reeds 15 jaar bestaat voor particulieren.
In verschillende sectoren (zoals de diamantsector, de kansspelsector, de horecasector of de voetbalsector) kampen ondernemers met het probleem dat zij moeilijk een financiële instelling vinden die bereid is om een minimum aan betaaldiensten te leveren. Financiële instellingen staan immers huiverig tegenover het aanbieden van zulke diensten in sectoren waar de identificatie van de potentiële klant en de naleving van de antiwitwaswetgeving moeilijker kan zijn. Vaak worden zulke sectoren zelfs helemaal niet bediend. Dit is problematisch nu men in België in de praktijk geen vennootschap kan oprichten of geen onderneming kan opstarten zonder te beschikken over een bankrekening.

Dankzij de nieuwe wet zal een in België gevestigde onderneming die ingeschreven is in de Kruispuntbank van Ondernemingen (KBO), of deze inschrijving aanvraagt, na ten minste driemaal een weigering te hebben ontvangen van een financiële instelling van haar aanvraag om minimale betalingsdiensten te verkrijgen, een recht op een basisbankdienst kunnen bekomen.
De weigering van een dergelijke aanvraag moet door de financiële instelling gemotiveerd worden en binnen 10 werkdagen na ontvangst van de aanvraag worden medegedeeld aan de onderneming. Een onderneming kan o.a. geweigerd worden als klant op basis van de antiwitwaswetgeving, of indien zij reeds een betaalrekening in België of een andere lidstaat van de Europese Unie aanhoudt die haar de toegang tot zulke minimale betaaldiensten verleent.

Na drie van zulke weigeringen kan de onderneming een basisbankdienst aanvragen bij de basisbankdienst-kamer binnen de FOD Economie dewelke dan een advies zal vragen aan de Cel voor Financiële Informatieverwerking (CFI). Na positief advies van de CFI – of een gebrek aan enige reactie binnen 60 dagen – zal de basisbankdienst-kamer een aanbieder van de basisbankdiensten aanwijzen, die deze toewijzing nog slechts op beperkte gronden kan weigeren.

Met de basisbankdienst kunnen ondernemingen eenvoudige betalingstransacties uitvoeren, zoals domicilieringen, storting van contanten en bankoverschrijvingen. De dienst wordt hen in euro of, op verzoek, in Amerikaanse dollar aangeboden. Ondernemingen moeten zowel fysiek (aan het loket in de bank of aan de bankautomaat), als online, van deze diensten kunnen genieten. Hiertoe dient ook een debetkaart te kunnen worden gebruikt. Er mag echter geen krediet worden verleend onder de basisbankdienst.

De wet zal in werking treden na 6 maanden volgend op de datum van publicatie ervan, zodat banken voldoende tijd hebben om zich hierop voor te bereiden.
Heeft u meer vragen over de nieuwe basisbankdienst voor ondernemingen? Contacteer dan onze finance partner Dieter Veestraeten (dve@astrealaw.be)

Assistance with structuring initial seed funding GIMBER

Astrea has advised the founders of the start-up GIMBER (gimber.com) a rapidly growing ginger drink manufacturer, with their first external funding round with the Luxembourg VC, DLF Venture and the Austrian VC, Square One Foods. The transaction was managed by Frédéric Verspreeuwen and Philippe Willemsens.

Will the repairing law “insolvency” make an end to the “empty box” bankruptcies in Belgium?

On 21 October 2020, a Legislative Proposal was submitted with the title “Legislative proposal containing several amendments on the insolvency of companies”. Also for the bankruptcy practice, this proposal contains an important change. Most of the bankruptcies are an “empty box”, for instance because the company was neglected for years and there are no assets left to liquidate. The liquidation of these zombie companies costs the courts a lot of time and effort and apparently the State a lot of money.

Talking about money: this proposal mainly aims to reduce government spending. The legislative proposal wants to make the “turbo-liquidation” also available for companies that are being sued in court to be declared bankrupt. The court could then opt for judicial liquidation proceedings, instead of bankruptcy proceedings, either when asked as a subordinate request by the claimant, or on its own initiative. The court will at the same time pronounce the immediate closure of the liquidation, which implies that it is over and out for the company.

Also speaking of money: this legislative proposal ignores any possible cost-benefit analysis and the possibility that a receiver-in-bankruptcy in a seemingly “empty box”, may be able to collect assets or claims with a financial and social positive outcome.

During the parliamentary debate it should be carefully considered whether the protection of creditors is not unduly sacrificed for the benefit of the government’s finances.

La loi de réparation mettra-t-elle fin à toutes les boîtes vides dans le droit de la faillite?

Le 21 Octobre 2020 une proposition de loi a été introduite « portant plusieurs modifications en matière d’insolvabilité des entreprises ». Cette proposition contient aussi pour la pratique de la faillite une importante modification. La plupart des faillites concernent des « boîtes vides » quand l’entreprise a été négligée depuis des années et qu’il n’y a pas d’actif à liquider. La liquidation de ces entreprises « zombies » demande beaucoup de temps d’efforts de la part des tribunaux et coûte apparemment beaucoup d’argent à l’état.

Parlant d’argent: cette proposition vise surtout à réduire les dépenses de l’état. Pour limiter les coûts, la proposition de loi veut que la «turbo-liquidation » soit aussi possible pour les entreprises qui ont été assignées en faillite. Le tribunal pourrait alors prononcer la liquidation judiciaire de l’entreprise au lieu de la faillite, ou bien sur demande subsidiaire du demandeur ou bien à sa propre initiative. En même temps le tribunal ordonnera la clôture de la liquidation et l’entreprise cessera d’exister.

Parlant encore d’argent: cette proposition de loi se passe de toute analyse coûts-bénéfices et ignore la possibilité où un curateur, désigné pour une faillite à première vue vide, arrive malgré tout à discerner et liquider certains actifs avec un résultat financier et sociétal positif.

Une profonde évaluation devra avoir lieu pendant le débat parlementaire pour veiller à ce que les intérêts des créanciers ne serait pas vainement sacrifié pour le bénéfice des finances de l’état.

Zal de reparatiewet Insolventie alle Lege Dozen in het faillissementsrecht opplooien?

Op 21 Oktober 2020 werd een Wetsvoorstel ingediend “houdende diverse wijzigingen inzake insolventie van ondernemingen”. Ook voor de faillissementspraktijk houdt dit voorstel een belangrijke wijziging in.De meeste faillissementen zijn een “lege doos” omdat de onderneming al jarenlang is verwaarloosd en er geen activa te liquideren zijn. De liquidatie van deze zombie-bedrijven kost de rechtbanken veel tijd en moeite en de Staat blijkbaar veel geld.

Over geld gesproken: dit wetsvoorstel wil vooral overheidskosten uitsparen. Het wetsvoorstel wil de “turbo-liquidatie” ook mogelijk maken voor ondernemingen die in faling worden gedagvaard. De rechtbank kan dan de gerechtelijke vereffening uitspreken in plaats van het faillissement, ofwel op ondergeschikt verzoek van de eisende partij, ofwel op eigen initiatief. Tegelijkertijd wordt de onmiddellijke sluiting van de vereffening bevolen, zodat het over en uit is voor de onderneming.

Nog over geld gesproken : dit wetsvoorstel gaat voorbij aan elke kosten-batenanalyse en negeert de mogelijkheid dat een curator in een op eerste zicht “lege doos” toch activa of vorderingen weet te innen met een financieel en maatschappelijk positief resultaat.

Tijdens het parlementair debat zal toch grondig moeten worden afgewogen of de bescherming van de schuldeisers niet nodeloos wordt opgeofferd aan het belang van de overheidsuitgaven.

Astrea advised Continuum Sports (CCC Team) on the sale of its WorldTour License to ProTeam Circus-Wanty Gobert-Tormans (CWG)

Astrea advised long-standing client Continuum Sports (CCC Team, formerly BMC Racing Team), with the Belgian aspects of the sale of its WorldTour License to Belgian ProTeam Circus Wanty Gobert (CWG) and this together with lead US Counsel Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren (Brian G. Carroll and Adam R. Konrad). The Astrea team was lead by partner Steven De Schrijver.

The sale still needs to be ratified by the UCI License Commission in December.

Astrea advised DPG Media on the set-up of a Joint Venture with Telenet

ASTREA acted as lead counsel to the largest media concern in Belgium, DPG Media (owning a.o. the largest broadcasting company in Belgium) in the set-up of an ambitious Joint Venture with Telenet, a listed company (telecom operator, owning, TV platform,  affiliate of the Liberty Group).

The purpose of this JV between both champions in their field of business is to build and launch a new streaming/SVOD platform in Belgium in 2020 aiming to become the biggest competitor in Belgium of Netflix.

The transaction included the negotiations of the investment agreement and joint-venture, but also the build-out of the technical streaming platform and the cooperation between the JV and its shareholders through a wholesale agreement, preferred reseller agreement, advertising agreements and content license agreements.

Frédéric Verspreeuwen lead the Astrea team and was responsible for the corporate aspects of the transaction.

Steven De Schrijver was responsible for drafting the video platform agreement, the data sharing agreement, the data processing agreement and the transitional services agreement.

We advised Horizon Ventures with a multi series investment in Ghent based scale-up Cloudalize

Steven De Schrijver and Dieter Veestraeten were advising Horizon Ventures, one of the largest venture capital funds of Hong Kong, on several rounds of investment in Cloudalize, a Belgian technology company. The Ghent based company Cloudalize offers a full-range of GPU-powered Cloud solutions for businesses. This is the first investment of Horizon Ventures in Belgium.

Astrea advised DoubleVerify on the acquisition of Digital Video Technology Company, Zentrick

Astrea has assisted US-based company DoubleVerify Inc. (the leading independent platform for digital media measurement and analytics), which is backed by Providence, one of the largest sector-focused PE’s with a portfolio of 60 bn USD, with the acquisition of Zentrick, a Belgian company building technology that empowers ad tech companies to deliver effective video advertising by aligning the needs of advertisers, publishers and viewers.

Astrea has assisted NYSE-listed HubSpot with the acquisition of PieSync

Astrea (with lead partner Steven De Schrijver) assisted NYSE-listed HubSpot (which offers a full platform of marketing, sales, customer service, and CRM software — plus the methodology, resources, and support — to help businesses) with the acquisition of PieSync, a Belgian company providing a solution to synchronize customer data between different business apps. Astrea was able to complete the entire transaction from LOI to closing in 6 weeks.

ASTREA ADVISED ON BELGIAN LAW ASPECTS OF UNITANK SALE TO DIF AND ASI

Astrea partners Dieter Veestraeten and Steven De Schrijver have advised the sellers on the Belgian law aspects of a transaction involving the signing of an agreement on the sale of 100% of the shares in UNITANK to DIF’s Core Infrastructure Fund I and Aberdeen Standard Investments’ SL Capital Infrastructure II SCSp.

Astrea assisted Efico with respect to an amendment of its multicurrency facility agreement

Dieter Veestraeten and his team assisted Efico, a company trading in green coffee and cocoa since 1926 with headquarters in Antwerp with respect to an amendment of its multicurrency facility agreement with a consortium of Belgian banks.

Assistance with respect to the refinancing of the real estate portfolio of Group Bernaerts

Dieter Veestraeten and his team assisted Group Bernaerts, a family owned real estate group based in Antwerp, with respect to the refinancing of its real estate portfolio in Antwerp, Mechelen and Willebroek. The portfolio consists of office buildings, semi industrial buildings and logistic warehouses.

Berry Westhoff, CFO of Group Bernaerts: “We have a longstanding strong and fruitful relationship with Astrea. Dieter Veestraeten is a solid counsel with an indepth knowledge of the financial industry and real estate market. We can always count on Dieter. He is a very responsive, pro-active advisor with an extreme dedication to the job and to us as his client. ”

Assistance of Castelmore Group with acquisitions in property management industry

Astrea has advised Castelmore Group with the roll out of their buy and build strategy in de property management industry, acquiring amongst others JALO BEHEER and BEHEER.  The transaction was managed by Frédéric Verspreeuwen and Philippe Willemsens, assisted by a multidisciplinary team at Astrea involved in the different aspects of the deal including on all regulatory and employment law aspects.

Assistance with structuring initial seed funding GIMBER

Astrea has advised the founders of the start-up GIMBER (gimber.com) a rapidly growing ginger drink manufacturer, with their first external funding round with the Luxembourg VC, DLF Venture and the Austrian VC, Square One Foods. The transaction was managed by Frédéric Verspreeuwen and Philippe Willemsens.

Assistance of Contraload founder and management with the sale to and reinvestment in Tosca

Astrea advised the founder and management of Contraload, a Belgian leading load carrier pooling company, active in almost all countries in Europe, with the sale of their shares to and reinvestment in Tosca, an American supplier of reusable packaging and supply chain solutions, controlled by Apax Funds. The transaction was managed by Frédéric Verspreeuwen, Dieter Veestraeten and Seppe Laenen.  

Assistance of Alcopa with the set-up of a joint-venture structure with the Bergé group

ASTREA advised Alcopa with the sale of 60% of its shareholding in Alcomotive, a car distributor selling 30.000 vehicles per year in 6 European countries, to Bergé Auto, which sells 150.000 cars per year in 9 markets in Europe and Latin America. ).   The transaction was managed by Frédéric Verspreeuwen, Philippe Willemsens and Seppe Laenen, assisted by a multidisciplinary team at Astrea involved in the different aspects of the deal including on all distribution and employment law aspects.

Assistance of DPG Media with the launch of streaming platform STREAMZ and the set-up, in this respect, of their joint-venture with TELENET

Astrea advised DPG Media (www.dpgmedia.be), the largest commercial broadcaster in Belgium, with the negotiation of a joint-venture with TELENET (www.telenet.be), a listed mobility services provider, to launch and commercialize a brand-new local streaming platform called STREAMZ (www.streamz.be).   The transaction was managed by Frédéric Verspreeuwen and Seppe Laenen, assisted by a multidisciplinary team at Astrea involved in the different aspects of the deal including on the development of the streaming platform, datasharing, content licenses, advertisement and commercialization of the STREAMZ offering.

Assistance of POC Partners with its shareholding restructuring

ASTREA advised project developer POC Partners with the negotiations and drafting of all documentation in connection with the restructuring of its shareholding and in particular the exit of one of its founding fathers. The transaction involved different aspects including court procedures and was managed by Marc Van Looveren – commercial litigation partner, Micha Van den Abeele – corporate real estate specialist and Mai Nguyen.

Assistance of VYBROS INVEST in buy and build in hydraulic drive engineering business

Astrea advised VYBROS INVEST with the acquisition of VAPO HYDRAULICS and the setup of a buy and build platform by VYBROS and the founding fathers of VAPO HYDRAULICS to roll out in 2019 and 2020 several acquisitions in the Benelux in the field of hydraulic drive engineering for press construction, infrastructure works, offshore and the energy sector as well as the maintenance of hydraulic components. These transactions were managed by Micha Van den Abeele and her team.

Assistance of MEDIPARTNER and its management with the investment by WE ARE JANE

Astrea assisted Medipartner and its CEO Sophie Mestré in the transaction with the new private equity firm WE ARE JANE, investing in MEDIPARTNER. Medipartner is the first investment of the We Are Jane fund that focuses on female entrepreneurs and is led by Conny Vandendriessche (Accent Jobs, House of HR and Stella P), Eline Talboom ann Muriel Uytterhaegen (former GIMV). This all female transaction (female founder, investor and advisors) was managed at Astrea by Micha Van den Abeele.

Assistance with international employment to a UK construction company

Astrea assisted a UK based construction company that will build a data center in Belgium about the mandatory social security and employment requirements when managing construction projects and construction sites. The client was advised on LIMOSA, A1 documents, work permits and residence permits, well-being at the work place, social security and tax debts, withholding obligations, minimum wages, electronic registration of the presences of workers (checkinatwork), declaration of a construction sites. Posting agreements and employment contract for local hires were also drafted.

Assisted a Finnish company with individual termination negotiations

A Belgian employee of a Finnish company was made redundant in compliance with the terms and conditions of his employment contract which was drawn up under Finnish law. However, based on mandatory Belgian employment law the employee claimed a higher termination indemnity. Astrea has lead the negotiations resulting in a favorable settlement agreement.

Successful appeal in a Belgian court applying Dutch employment law – Joint pleadings with a Dutch law firm

Together with the Dutch law firm, Astrea represented a Belgian employee who had left the company to settle in the US and start a competing business. The employer claimed an indemnification of 1,000,000 EUR under Dutch employment law for breach of his non-compete clause and his relation clause. Astrea prepared and pleaded the case jointly with the Dutch lawyer and won the appeal in the Belgian labour court of appeal. The court accepted that mandatory local Belgian law prevailed over the contractual Dutch law

COVID-19 preventive measures in the automotive industry

Astrea advised its client in respect with the COVID-19prevention measures to be taken. A number of legal issues needed to be solved: how to introduce tracking devices, temperature control at the entrance, GDPR-compliance when it is forbidden to store medical devices.

Assistance with collective bargaining agreements re. TUPE

Astrea assisted the seller in the collective negotiations with its trade unions to conclude a collective bargaining agreement when it transferred part of its employees to its subcontractor. After the transfer, Astrea assisted the buyer in the collective negotiations with its trade unions to conclude a collective bargaining agreement to harmonize the working conditions of the employees transferred to it.