Note: The following
information is intended to provide only the most general information. If
you have specific questions concerning banks, banking practices, currency
transfers or any other financial related question, please contact one of
the banks listed below, the Central Bank of Brazil or the Brazilian Embassy
or Consulate nearest your location.
While most American banks now provide some form of electronic bill paying service, they seem to choke at the concept of electronically transferring funds from, let's say, your checking account to that of your brother or any other private individual. Brazilian banks regularly, quickly, reliably and easily accomplish this. So, in Brazil, it's possible to electronically transfer funds to anybody, even at a different bank, anywhere in Brazil and the money will be in their account and available to them (at maximum) by the time they wake up the next morning; most often the very same day.
In addition to the usual banking products and services provided by most U.S. banks, Brazilian banks also sell insurance, stocks, bonds, investments, retirement plans, futures, currency trading and a plethora of other products. Normal banking hours are from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday except for holidays. Most Brazilian cities of any size have at least one full service branch office of, at least, Banco do Brasil (Bank of Brazil). In 2008, three of the five most profitable banks in the Americas were located in Brazil:
Banco do Brasil [English] Brazil's largest state-owned bank with 2008 net revenues of $3.76 billion U.S. dollars. It ranked the third most profitable bank on the continent, according to the study by consulting firm Economatica. It's shares are traded on the market but it is controlled by the government.
Itau Unibanco group [English] Ranked fourth with 2008 net revenues of $3.39 billion U.S. dollars,
Bradesco [Portuguese] Ranked fifth with 2008 net revenues were $3.26 billion U.S. dollars.
Other notable Brazilian banks include:
Caixa Economica Federal [English] Another large bank, entirely government controlled with no share holders. Its major function is to finance the civil and construction sectors.
Santander- Banespa [Portuguese]
AMB AMRO Real [Portuguese] The former Banco Real, it was bought by Dutch ABN AMRO group a few years ago.
Nossa Caixa [Portuguese]
Visit the Central Bank [English] web site to access a variety of up-to-date reports about the top 50 Brazilian banks.
Much of the efficiency of Brazilian banks is due to the Central Bank of Brazil, (the Brazilian equivalent of the US Federal Reserve Bank) which brings technology, supervision and reliability to inter bank operations by use if its SISBACEN (Information Database System) and Brazilian Payments System.
Of course, all this efficiency, reliability and technology comes at a price. With very few exceptions, every financial transaction accomplished at a Brazilian bank was once subject to a tax, a government imposed 0.038% "CPMF" (Contribuição Provisória sobre Movimentação ou Transmissão de Valores e de Créditos e Direitos de Natureza Financeira) or Temporary Contribution on the Movement of Values or Transmission of Credits and Rights of a Financial Nature. Originally instituted in 1993 as a "temporary" tax measure to help fund the country's public health care system it, like many taxes everywhere, continued for years. While in place, the CPMF tax provided up to R$ 22 billion per year to the Brazilian tax coffers, with about 45% going to anti-poverty efforts, 40% to health care and about 15% percent to help cover social security benefits. However, in a December, 2007 vote, the Brazilian senate failed to pass a bill (four votes short of the required 60% majority) that would have extended the CPMF tax until 2011. As a result, the CPMF tax was lifted on December 31, 2007.
Interest rates are very high in Brazil. For example, the interest rate for credit card balances hovers between 8% and 10+% per month and heaven help you if your payment is ever late (over 30 days) because the rate increases by an additional +/- 50%! On the other side of the coin, savings accounts usually earn interest at a rate of between ½ and 1% per month.
First introduced in June, 1994, Brazil's currency is the real (plural = reais) and is made up of 100 centavos. At its introduction, the real was on a relatively equal par with the US dollar. While no longer there, the inflation busting real has continued to help provide financial stability for Brazil. The rampant inflation of the early 1990's (often at over 1% per day, causing interest rates to soar to 20% to 30+% per month) is now a only distant memory.
You may see different dollar and the real exchange rates in different places noted as "commercial", "tourist"' and/or "parallel." The "commercial" rate is the rate most often used by banks, credit card companies, commercial businesses, online currency converters, etc. The "tourist" rate is just what it implies, the exchange rate a tourist can expect if exchanging dollars for reais at, for example, a bank, travel agency, hotel, etc. The "parallel" rate is, essentially, another way of saying "black market rate." There are usually also different exchange rates for "buying dollars" and "selling dollars."
For the latest, up to the
minute exchange rate for the Brazilian real to/from US dollars,
euros, British pounds, Japanese yen, etc., visit our free online Currency
Converter. For an historical view of exchange rates of up to five
years, visit . Also see more information about Brazilian
currency, Brazilian banknotes
and coins, Brazilian taxes
as well as money exchange issues and the use of credit cards in Brazil
at stores, restaurants and ATMs on our Brazil
Travel Tips & Information page.
Central Bank employees closed up Friday night, August 5th at 6:00 pm and discovered the theft at 8:00 am Monday morning, August 8th when they reopened. This gave the thieves approximately 40 undisturbed hours to complete their heist. According to what investigators have thus far been able to ascertain, it seems that a gang of between ten and twenty ingenious (and, most likely, professional) thieves rented a small storefront in Fortaleza, Ceará, little more than a city block away from the building housing the Fortaleza branch of the Central Bank of Brazil.
Over a period of three months, the intrepid thieves dug a 255 foot long, 2.25 foot diameter, wood reinforced, lighted, air conditioned and, concrete, plastic and canvas lined tunnel down 13+ feet beneath the storefront, under the street and directly back up into the bank vault. To enter through the floor of the steel lined vault itself, the thieves had to dig through 3.5 feet of steel reinforced concrete! It also seems that the motion detectors inside the bank vault were "unaccountably" not functioning and surveillance cameras, while functioning, recorded nothing! This fact alone would imply that every bank employee has probably already undergone exhaustive interrogation.
The thieves bypassed boxes and boxes of new, uncirculated banknotes (with recorded, sequential serial numbers) and only opened five boxes containing used R$ 50 banknotes with unrecorded serial numbers ... carrying away 3.5 metric tons worth of them! The used bills had been returned from commercial banks throughout the region and were awaiting evaluation to determine if they should be destroyed or returned to circulation.
In questioning neighbors living near the storefront, which posed as a landscaping company specializing in artificial grass, investigators have learned that one of those who was often seen in and around the building also frequented a local bar (buteco) where he regularly bought rounds of drinks for everyone. Investigators believe he may have been the ring leader.
Inside the storefront itself, police discovered numerous tools including shovels, pickaxes, bolt cutters, electric drills and saws as well as acetylene torches and other equipment used to dig the tunnel. They also found numerous fingerprints together with bags and bags containing nothing but dirt, most of it part of the estimated 90 metric tons of material excavated from the tunnel.
Police are investigating the possibility that the heist was the work of one of Brazil's most notorious organized crime groups, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Capital Commando), better know in Brazil by its acronym PCC. The São Paulo-based crime group has become notorious over the past few years for masterminding bank and armored car robberies, kidnappings and violent prison riots throughout Brazil.
The Central Bank robbery resembles one that occurred in the city of São Paulo last year, where thieves made off with off with the equivalent of USD$ 1.6 million after tunneling into the headquarters of an armored car company. Federal Police have not ruled out the possibility that the Central Bank and São Paulo robberies are connected and possibly masterminded by the same man, Moises Teixeira da Silva, who is believed to be a member of the PCC and the leader of criminal gang known as Tatuzão (giant armadillo) which specializes in building tunnels to rob banks and armored car companies. In 2001, Da Silva, who was serving a 25 year sentence for bank robbery, escaped from prison in São Paulo together with more than 100 other inmates by (of course) digging a tunnel!
The Central Bank robbery is also reminiscent of the plot of Woody Allen's 2000 film Cheaters where Woody plays the role of a leader of a gang digging a tunnel to rob a bank. In the film, the gang rents a storefront next to a bank where they operate a cookie store while they dug the tunnel. In the end, the cookie business becomes so lucrative that the gang abandons the idea of the bank robbery to become successful and wealthy cookie moguls.
Fortaleza, Wednesday, August 10, 2005 — Police investigators discovered two vehicles used by the robbers parked in a downtown parking lot. One vehicle contained packages of used R$ 50 banknotes worth R$ 5,350.00. Oops! I thought you brought the money!
Belo Horizonte, Thursday, August 11, 2005 — While the intrepid bank robbers were certainly ingenious in the design and execution of their heist, they may have failed to exercise some basic intelligence after the fact. In their rush to spend their ill gotten gains, it appears that some of them visited a car dealer in Fortaleza and bought two expensive imported cars as well as seven other vehicles, including two small pickup trucks, paying R$ 950,000 for all of them in cash! This, of course, aroused suspicions and police were notified.
After an alert was issued throughout Brazil, the Federal Highway Police in Minas Gerais (near Sete Lagoas) stopped a double-decker auto transport truck in the wee hours of the morning that contained the two pickups in question. In their search of the pickup trucks, police discovered that the tailgates and tires of both were literally stuffed with (guess what?) used R$ 50 banknotes, in fact, more than R$ 2 million worth of them! Needless to say, the auto transport driver together with the owners of the transport company were taken into police custody. Even with this recovery, millions remain unaccounted for. Authorities report that they now have five confirmed suspects.
Fortaleza, Thursday, September 8, 2005 — While police investigators continue to follow up on leads and attempt to track down their list of suspects and people of interest, Brazilian press coverage and media attention has waned as accusations of political corruption have taken a front row seat. Of course, the lack of continued media attention also may be due to nothing more than a dearth of any new developments.
São Paulo, Saturday, September 17, 2005 — Brazilian prosecutors formally charged six men with the Central Bank of Brazil bank robbery which occurred over the weekend of August 6 and 7, 2005. Three of the six facing formal charges have been in police custody since their arrest in Belo Horizonte August 11th (see above) include brothers, José Elizomarte and Francisco Dermival Fernandes Vieira, who were partners in an auto transport company, and José Machado de Morais Charles, the driver of the auto transport truck. The three others who have been charged remain both unnamed and still at large.
Prosecutors also revealed that, shortly before the robbery, the thieves tried to charter a small plane to make their getaway out of the country. This turned into a baguça (mess) as it aroused suspicions among numerous taxistas (taxi drivers) who were apparently contracted in advance to take the robbers and their loot to the airport after the heist was completed. Prosecutors also revealed that some of the stolen loot was packed in grain sacks and shipped from Fortaleza to São Paulo on a regularly scheduled commercial flight. All of this was intercepted and confiscated.
To date, only about 3% of the stolen loot has been recovered, leaving over 3 metric tons worth of used R$ 50 banknotes still unaccounted for. Some Brazilian pundits wonder if the police have only nabbed the small fry who held only a small portion of the money while the big fish remain free to enjoy the majority of their ill gotten gains — possible somewhere out of the country. Who knows at this point? Prosecutors have been cautious in disclosing information to the public through the media.
For more information, see our Brazilian Media Resources page for media links throughout Brazil.