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The new directives demand that banks exercise increasing due diligence around foreign business accounts.

Kings Road dealers Guinevere Antiques, who buy regularly in Europe, have banked in France since the 1970s and held a French chequing account with HSBC for 11 years.

They received a letter in July informing them of the new regulations regarding foreign business accounts and HSBC’s intention to close the account before the end of the year.

"Met a Brick Wall"

In subsequent correspondence owner Kevin Weaver said he “met a brick wall” and tried instead to open a new account at a Paris branch of BNP Paribas on the Rue de Bac, one that has established relationships with other members of the trade.

An apologetic manager told him that some small and medium-sized overseas companies were now being removed from BNP’s list of customers as they exposed the bank to increased risk.

He added that “antique dealers were particularly difficult”.

Guinevere have recently opened an account with a bank in Belgium.

Other dealers are understood to have had similar experiences with a variety of banks.

One, who asked not to be named, told ATG: “What I find ridiculous is that this will simply encourage the black economy where once more we all deal in cash.”

Art and antiques shippers Hedley’s Humpers, who have traded for over 40 years, had their euro clients’ account closed just before Christmas. BNP cited the need to comply with money laundering legislation.

Stephanie Terrassier, assistant financial controller at Hedley’s, told ATG that complying with the demands of the bank in the run-up to the account closure had become increasingly burdensome for the firm, with large deposits from customers frequently questioned.

They were only approved by supplying detailed information about where and who the money was from and what it would be used for.

Terrassier told ATG the firm had lost at least two clients since being unable to offer the service.

If the situation does not improve, she says the only solution would be for organisers of large European outdoor fairs to offer dealers easy access to credit card machines and other digital payment methods.