The connected world delivers many benefits, not least the ability to consign the traditional office to history and work effectively wherever there is a reliable Internet connection. But while the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle is hugely attractive, the mechanics of the business world still need to be managed and maintained.

Depending on your country of residence, that can mean dealing with bureaucracy that today’s entrepreneurs just don’t have the time or inclination to patronise.

Estonia has long been at the forefront of digital evolution, and is renowned for its e-government solutions. Recognising the increasing need for ‘businesses without borders’, and developing its leadership in all things digital, in 2014 the government launched the innovative e-Residency programme. This enables foreign citizens wishing to benefit from the efficiency of e-Residency platform – including both Estonian e-services and e-services from international service providers – to become an e-resident, register their business in Estonia and run the global EU company fully online.

As well as to serve the needs of those looking for a nimble business management model, the initiative was launched to help bring investment to Estonia and accelerate economic growth. To date, some 20,440 people from 138 countries have applied for e-Residency, and e-residents are engaged to 3,256 companies (as owners or board members).

eestoriaUntil this year, everything except the establishment of a business banking account could be completed remotely, online. Then in May 2017, we partnered with Finnish fintech company Holvi
(https://about.holvi.com) to provide ‘borderless business banking to the borderless digital nation’. This means a complete EU company with complete EU business banking and a credit card can be established entirely online. In preparation for this expansion of the programme, we also launched a new website www.e-resident.gov.ee to encourage more people to join our new digital nation and enjoy the freedom to both open and run a global EU company from anywhere in the world.

How it works
I caught up with two e-residents – Pete Boraso from Italy and Dirk Singer from the UK – to see how e-Residency is benefiting their businesses.

Pete was the first e-resident to sign up to the Holvi service. Pete has extensive experience of running businesses in several countries, starting his first venture when he was 22 to bring the first iPhones into Europe.

Today, the Boraso family owns the largest Apple distributor in Italy, and Pete has opened companies in the US, Hong Kong and Europe. Before becoming an Estonian e-resident earlier this year, his business was based in Italy.

“My current company, Moonrise, is a consulting agency that works with major distributors, retailers and wholesalers. There has always been bureaucracy and complications involved in setting up companies, and I have never until now found a regime that suits my mobile lifestyle. Running a business in Italy is very paper-based, you need to be there in person to sign anything, and making any change to a company structure, even an address, can be time-consuming and expensive,” said Pete.

Estonia has long been at the forefront of digital evolution, and is renowned for its e-government solutions

Estonia has long been at the forefront of digital evolution, and is renowned for its e-government solutions

“I was in Portugal looking to move my company there when I read about the new e-Residency programme. I didn’t apply immediately as I wanted to wait and see if it was going to become established, but once I did apply earlier this year I was blown away by the speed and efficiency of the process.”

Pete did not need to, and has yet to, set foot in Estonia. He visited the Estonian consulate in Lisbon, provided some documents, and the e-Residency was confirmed within three weeks. He appointed Estonian company LeapIN (www.leapin.eu) as his accountants. LeapIN provides a turn-key solution to set up a location-independent company with a bank account, handling incorporation, accounting, taxes and compliance.

“LeapIN guided me through the whole process. It was all very easy – not least because in Estonia when someone says it will take two to three weeks, it usually actually means three to four days. I also had amazing customer service from Holvi – as the first e-resident to sign up, there were minor glitches that needed sorting, and I’m looking forward to greater competition in this space bringing the monthly cost down (!) – but all is working well. I have a company Mastercard and online services wherever I am in the world, and the Holvi system also works with the LeapIN platform. I do usually like to be critical, but the whole thing ran so smoothly!

“I feel about a hundred times more confident about online banking than I do about traditional banks – the latter are the ones being scammed, not the start-ups providing new innovative solutions for banking. The old traditional behemoths are too closely tied to the state. Personally, I prefer to have my money in a smaller bank that is not focused on anything other than encrypting my data to keep it secure, and being really user-friendly.

“Has e-Residency made a huge difference to me? In one sense no, as I had an established business to move over, and the structure remains the same. In another sense, yes absolutely. Much of a business’s success is based on its reputation, and with the Estonia e-programme everything around ‘doing business’ becomes easier. It’s all transparent, and I – and most importantly my clients – have the confidence that everything is being done correctly. e-Residency is designed for the digital future – and that future is here now.”

UK-based Dirk Singer has been an Estonian e-resident since June 2016. Having founded two successful agencies from scratch, he began to question the business model that needed people sitting in offices in specific locations.

He re-launched his current agency Rabbit as a virtual business in response to clients who were looking for flexibility. “In the social media world, my clients need an agency that can respond 24 hours a day, from anywhere. So a location-independent business makes perfect sense, said Dirk. “In addition, with Brexit then on the horizon, I wanted to have a business established in the European Union.

“Becoming an e-resident was very easy, just involving a visit to the Estonian embassy in London. I did need to travel to Estonia to open up my bank account – I chose LHV, which is Estonia’s biggest domestic financial group. Everything was waiting for me – the process took just 20 minutes, and I also had the opportunity to look round the charming Tallinn Old Town. I didn’t consider the travel to be an inconvenience, but I can see if you are coming from further away it might be.”

Dirk also uses LeapIN and has nothing but praise for the service, which includes providing his registered office address. He also uses TransferWise (https://transferwise.com), another disruptive fintech company that is revolutionising the international money transfer market – the service integrates seamlessly with LHV.

“We don’t know what’s happening regarding Brexit, what shape or form it will take, particularly after this UK election. If it’s a hard Brexit, then I have a business that will still be in the EU. I can still go for RFPs and work in euros. The e-Residency makes everything administratively very efficient, including the ability to pay bills through my e-Residency card. If you’re running a small creative business, or you don’t have to be physically in a location, it’s a no-brainer, and it’s a Brexit insurance – all for the set up cost of around €300.”

Kaspar Korjus is Programme Director, e-Residency, Estonia