There are a number of interesting issues involving money in Shadowrun that are useful to understand when striving for verisimilitude. Let’s start with the dictionary definition:
mon.ey \’m*n-e-\ n or moneys or mon.ies [ME moneye, fr. MF moneie, fr. L moneta mint, money - more] pl at MINT 1: something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment : as 1a: officially coined or stamped metal currency 1b: MONEY OF ACCOUNT 1c: PAPER MONEY 2: wealth reckoned in terms of money 3: a form or denomination of coin or paper money
Money, in the 2050’s, is just information: a consensual hallucination with far deeper roots than the Matrix. It has value only because people believe it has value. Hard currency— cash, the stuff you can run through your fingers— is getting rarer as more and more electronic transactions are used. (If you can find any references to a hard currency of nuyen in the Shadowrun source material, other than in Tir Tairngire, please let me know.)
Money generally changes hands in three ways:
E-cash is what you find on certified credsticks. (A certified credstick is the equivalent of a money order, cashier’s check, etc.) Almost all credsticks are designed to hold E-cash (in addition to other data), and can perform stick-to-stick unverified transfers. (Someone with access to sophisticated technology and fabrication could create a credstick designed for multiple spending, but it would require a great deal of effort; such things are also quite illegal.)
It is possible to “tag” E-cash, just as one can mark bills or record their serial numbers. Participating banks can then watch for E-cash bearing given serial numbers and generate immediate security alerts when “tagged” money is spent. In general, if the “tagged” money resurfaces in dribs and drabs amongst other electronic certificates, the authorities will have to cope with the fact that the cred has been successfully laundered.
Money laundering is an effort to deceive authorities into believing that illicit income is actually legitimate. Most criminals, already breaking the law, prefer not to.
Money laundering usually works in three stages:
Naturally, governments interested in preventing money laundering try to make this difficult. (In the 1990’s US, for instance, all currency transactions over $10,000 must be reported to the IRS— prompting large numbers of smaller transactions, which in turn prompts laws about reporting given amounts of money deposited over a given amount of time, and so on.) Offshore banks in nations with privacy rules tend to make this difficult, though even private banks will take a dim view of people blatantly using them for money laundering and may ask such customers to change banks.
There do exist “shadow banks” that deal in pure E-cash. By churning both legitimate and illegitimate funds heavily, it’s possible to mix small amounts of dirty money amongst large amounts of the clean stuff; if an investigator ever spots “tagged” E-cash, it will appear to already have been successfully laundered. However, “shadow banks” can be very risky to deal with, as they can be raided or shut down, and no insurance exists to bail out lost fortunes; they also require large amounts of clean cash to function in the first place.
Unless your character lives out of cheap hotels that take payment on a nightly basis or actually has a landlord that takes certified cred for rent payments, they probably have a fake ID of some sort for dealing with life on a day-to-day basis: paying the rent, having a driver’s license, and so on. (Very few landlords want SINless tenants: they’re a bad risk.) If they run money through that fake ID, then they’re going to attract the attention of the IRS or their country’s equivalent, if not more dangerous agencies looking for worse sorts of criminals than tax evaders.
The easiest thing for a runner to do is transfer enough certified cred into their in-country bank account to support their lifestyle (and perhaps a little bit more) and pay the taxes on it, claiming to be some sort of consultant. The fact that you’re insisting on always being paid in certified credit makes it more likely you’re going to be audited, so it’s a good idea to have an appropriate set of faked invoices.
The next step up in quality is to funnel your cash through some sort of holding company and having it pay your “salary”, benefits, and income tax withholding. Shadowrunning teams may often chip in to get and maintain a company. This makes things much more aboveboard, and contributes to the quality of the ID you’re living under.
Johnsons with very good connections who want to track down the runners are quite capable of arranging for the cred they pay in to be tagged, and watcher programs ready to feed information back to the Johnson on how the cred was spent, which can then compromise the runners’ fake ID’s. Johnsons with criminal connections (and unscrupulous fixers with money-laundering operations) can even pay runners in someone else’s “dirty” cred, and “dirty” cred is often what you receive when you sell things to other criminals.
In general, if you keep your money associated with a SIN, you can lose that money if the SIN is compromised. (If you don’t keep money in a SIN, you can’t get a decent credit rating, which can be suspicious if you live at a good lifestyle.) If you keep your money in certified credit, it can be stolen. Security through obscurity is an excellent start— if you have a cache of money and property somewhere that’s very difficult to trace to you, you’re off to a good start. Tying your money to something else (like a holding company) that’s more difficult to interfere with is also viable.
It helps to maintain your fake ID to pretend your money is coming in from a regular job. It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to set up a holding company in your operating country that receives nuyen in mysterious transfers from an offshore holding company, and then have that company go through all the paperwork to maintain your fake ID’s, withholding taxes and making regular payments to your account. Since even rich shadowrunners tend to make a good deal less than major drug dealers, they usually don’t need to go through elaborate schemes to launder their cred.
The best option for keeping your money someplace safe is to place it in a numbered bank account where no one’s likely to be able to get at it. The Caribbean League, Switzerland, Austria, and Zurich-Orbital are the best places to open such accounts, as their banking privacy laws are structured so as to encourage foreign investment. However, to open an account at a good Carib League bank, you should be starting out with a good 50,000¥; if you want a Swiss bank, they won’t talk to you for less than 200,000¥; and you can’t get into Zurich-Orbital for less than 1,000,000¥. (The benefits of having those funds staying in your account untouched are discussed in Shadowrun II under “buying a lifestyle”. If you have 100 times your Lifestyle cost in an offshore bank, you can live at that Lifestyle off the interest, though it will probably require tying the money up in long-term investments.) However, if you can get any of these guys to issue you a credstick (which will have at least a retina print if not DNA scan for access), your funds should be nearly untouchable. (Very good runners might be able to take a medium-sized Carib League bank. The very best might be able to take a Swiss bank. And only a legendary group could manage Zurich-Orbital.) Note that corporations can also have accounts with these banks, and may benefit from being incorporated in that particular country.
Filtering your money from a secure bank account into an offshore holding company, then into a local holding company, then onto your credstick as a “bonus for exceptional work” or an “incentive” is then one of the most secure methods for getting your cred laundered properly. Once you’ve gotten it into your secure bank account, the only lossage is in paying the taxes you’d need to pay anyway for your SIN to stay clean. (The startup costs, of course, can be a bit high at first, and one must continue to pay the operating costs.)
Secure bank accounts may carry any number of interesting privileges with them, or give access to things normally not available, in addition to what you might expect from normal features of such accounts. (Someone displaying good Etiquette (Corporate) or Etiquette (High Society) skills when personally transacting with a private bank might be given an opportunity to join exclusive clubs or spend time at exclusive ski or beach resorts. This could make for excellent ways for runners to spend lots of money while waiting for a trail to cool down, and can lead to more plot hooks for further adventures as they meet people who might later need “deniable assets.”
Example: Obsidian Medical™ is a service available only to the customers of exclusive private banks, including the best in the Carib League, most good Swiss and Austrian banks, and Zurich-Orbital. You create a subaccount in your private bank, transfer 500,000¥ into it, and give Obsidian Medical™ control over investing it; they use the interest to pay for one of the world’s best medical care services. Signing up is a five-year contract, and you can get back your original investment at renewal time; breaking the contract beforehand may only leave you with 50% of it. With Obsidian Medical™, you get the equivalent of DocWagon™ Platinum care wherever you go on the planet, including the UK’s Careline, the German BuMoNa, and Aztlan MedíCarro. It automatically takes care of payments to Tir Tairngire’s Medical Services Plan and Tír na nÓg’s National Health Service when you visit those countries. When you sign up, you have your choice of a variety of notifiers with biomonitoring functions, ranging from a similar bracelet to the one provided for DocWagon™ Platinum customers to a beta-grade cyberimplant taking up 0.2 Essence that can integrate with any existing headware, capable of giving a five-second countdown on your display link before contacting the local medical services for immediate response. (The cyberware is implanted in a clinic attached to a very exclusive Swiss resort that can provide residency for your assistants while you recuperate from surgery; you can be transported there from anywhere else in the world as soon as you’re in stable condition. The clinic is rumored to have other beta-grade cyberware available for appropriately wealthy and discreet customers, as well as access to bioware culturing facilities and leónization...)
One thing to keep in mind throughout all this high-society world: Shadowrunners are not the norm here. There are many people in command of more resources than shadowrunners’ avaricious hearts can even dream of, and they do not take kindly to people making a scene or any other sort of trouble. Runners should tread very warily in such areas; fleeing to an exclusive resort with serious military assets hot on their heels with the idea “They’ll never try attacking us here!” should be a trip from the frying pan to the plasma furnace.
In general, a decker with some appropriate business skills (or working with a fixer looking over their shoulder) should be able to handle basic money laundering without much trouble or expense. (Having such a person on the running team is very useful.) The dirtier the money, the more effort needs to go into getting it back, and the less money you can expect to get back. Investing in a holding company or an offshore bank account is often a wise decision, and is usually sufficient for laundering the kind of cred you get from Johnsons after a run. (A deposit into your account in Barbados might be traceable to that bank, but after a transfer to Switzerland or Zurich-Orbital, no one would even be able to associate the bank with your name.) Getting the bank account is best done in person. If you apply over the Matrix, you usually get some discreet background checks.
If you don’t have the skills on your running team, there are plenty of money laundering operations going on. Your friendly neighborhood Yakuza, Mafia, Tongs, and Rings are all running money laundering operations, and you could get in on them for a little bit of cream taken off the top of your funds. (And if you do something stupid in laundering your own funds at the same place they’re laundering theirs and it gets too hot for them, they may come after you if they find out it’s you! Similarly, it’s possible for runners to be hired to explicitly frag up and get the heat turned up on a rival’s operation.)
A runner team could even decide to become perpetual travelers to avoid paying taxes while still maintaining reasonable SINs, giving a gamemaster who enjoys a broad variety of settings a chance to have runs all over the planet. Such runners could easily get around the world in a yacht or zeppelin.
Here are some things that can get a runner in financial trouble:
|Die Roll||UCAS $/¥|
The nuyen and the ecu (European Currency Unit) are synchronised at 1:1. The deutsche mark (DM) is in lockstep at 2¥:DM 1, while the Québec franc is at 2f:1¥, and Aztlan pesos are at 500aP:1¥. Tír na nÓg’s punt matches the nuyen at T£2.20:1¥, and the UK’s pound sterling does so at UK£2.5:1¥. The believability of the UCAS dollar varying so frequently is quite low: if it varied as the table in the Neo-Anarchist’s Guide to North America suggests, it would make tremendous amounts of easy money for currency speculators. The nuyen is the primary currency in Seattle, Tir Tairngire, all the Native American Nations, and the Confederated American States.
100¥ = 100 ecu = DM 50 = UCAS$500 = T£220 = UK£250 = 200ƒ = 50,000 aP
The deutsche mark, Aztlan peso, British pound sterling, and Tír na nÓg punt are all hard currencies, and Tir Tairngire has issued hard currency for nuyen (though I suspect that is only redeemable inside Tir Tairngire). Most currencies have names for hundredth quantities: pounds and punts have pennies, dollars have cents, pesos have centavos, francs have centimes, and deutsche marks have pfennig. Nuyen appear to simply go into decimals.
If a gamemaster and one or more players are interested in a game that deals with playing the markets from the shadows, you can join the ranks of the Chromed Accountant and the Keynesian Kid in the notoriety of the shadows and develop your own systems. To save effort for those who’d rather not keep track of the immense number of details to run that sort of game, I have some simplifying assumptions:
Some useful URLs for Swiss banking include Swiss Private Banking and Swiss Annuities & Banking Services. If your characters start getting offshore accounts, reading up on these URLs should be a good start.
Looking in the back of The Economist was amazingly fruitful. Take a look at Irish Incorporations Ltd..
In particular, Eurotrust International Group’s page on the Uses of Offshore Companies is quite helpful. International Company Services Limited has their take on the same topic. Global Money Consultants has a page on the Austrian “Sparbuch” that suggests another novel way for shadowrunners to be paid, and the site is full of other wonderfully useful information.
Some more things I found on the web include Offshore World (which
specializes in Belize) and Continental
Management Ltd. in Bermuda. There are some good articles at Donlevy-Rosen & Rosen,