Banking in Switzerland

Banking in Switzerland

Banking in Switzerland is characterized by stability, privacy and protection of clients' assets and information. The country's tradition of bank secrecy, which dates to the Middle Ages, was first codified in a 1934 law. [cite web |url=,8599,348968,00.html |title=Silence Is Golden |publisher=Time Magazine |date=2002-09-08 |author=Gumbel, Peter| accessdate = 2006-06-16] All banks in Switzerland are regulated by the Federal Banking Commission (FBC), which derives its authority from a series of federal statutes.


Switzerland is an economically advanced and prosperous nation, with a gross domestic product (GDP) higher than that of some larger western European nations. In addition, the value of the Swiss franc (CHF) has been relatively stable compared to that of other currencies. [cite web |url= |title=The World Factbook - Switzerland - Economy |publisher=Central Intelligence Agency | accessdate = 2006-06-16] In 2003, the financial sector comprised an estimated 14% of Switzerland's GDP and employed approximately 180,000 people (110,000 of whom work in the banking sector); this represents about 5.6% of the total Swiss workforce. [cite web |url= |title=Swiss Financial Centre |publisher=Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C. | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

Swiss neutrality and national sovereignty, long recognized by foreign nations, have fostered a stable environment in which the banking sector was able to develop and thrive. Even though it is near Europe's geographical centre, Switzerland maintained neutrality through both World Wars; is not a member of the European Union or the European Economic Area; and was not even a member of the United Nations until 2002. [cite web |url= |title=The World Factbook - Switzerland - Introduction |publisher=Central Intelligence Agency |date=2006-06-13 | accessdate = 2006-06-17] [cite web |url= |title=Country profile: Switzerland |publisher=BBC News |date=2006-03-26 | accessdate = 2006-06-17]

Currently an estimated one-third of all funds held outside their country of origin (sometimes called "offshore" funds) are kept in Switzerland. In 2001 Swiss banks managed US$ 2.6 trillion. The following year it only handled US$2.2 trillion, US$400 billion less than before. This has been attributed to both a bear market and possibly to stricter regulations on Swiss banking. [cite web |url= |title=Swiss Banks: Paradise Lost |publisher=Business Week |date=2003-10-27 |author=Cohn, Laura and Fairlamb, David | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

The Bank of International Settlements, an organization that facilitates cooperation among the world's central banks, is headquartered in the city of Basel. Founded in 1930, the BIS chose to locate in Switzerland because of the country's neutrality, which was important to an organization founded by countries that had been on both sides of World War I. [cite web |url= |title=Origins: Why Basel? |publisher=Bank of International Settlements | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

Foreign banks operating in Switzerland manage 870 billion Swiss francs worth of assets (as of May 2006). [cite web |url= |title=Foreign Banks In Switzerland Manage CHF870 Billion In Assets |publisher=Dow Jones |date=2006-05-29 | accessdate = 2006-06-15]

Law and regulation

The Federal Banking Commission, an independent agency of the Swiss government within the Federal Department of Finance, supervises most banking-related activities as well as securities markets and investment funds. [cite web |url= |title=About the SFBC |publisher=Swiss Federal Banking Commission | accessdate = 2006-06-15] Regulatory authority is derived from several statutes.

The office of the Swiss Banking Ombudsman, founded in 1993, is sponsored by the Swiss Banking Ombudsman Foundation, which was established by the Swiss Bankers Association. The ombudsman's services, which are offered free of charge, include mediation and assistance to persons searching for dormant assets. The ombudsman handles about 1,500 complaints raised against banks yearly. [cite web |url= |title=Swiss Banking Ombudsman |publisher=Swiss Banking Ombudsman | accessdate = 2006-06-17]


Banking law of 1934

The Swiss Parliament passed the Banking Law of 1934, which codified the rules of secrecy and criminalizes violation of it. The secrecy provisions were not included in the first draft of the law, which mainly concerned administrative matters such as bank supervision. The provisions, found in Article 47(b), were added before passage of the bill due to Nazi authorities' attempts to investigate the assets of Jews and "enemies of the state" held in Switzerland. [cite journal |author=Mueller, Kurt |title=The Swiss Banking Secret: From a Legal View |journal=The International and Comparative Law Quarterly |year=1969 |volume=18 |issue=2 |pages=361–362 |url= ]

Electronic payments

Swiss banks, as well as the post office (which handles some financial transactions) use an electronic payments system known as Swiss Interbank Clearing (SIC). The system is supervised by the Swiss National Bank and is operated via a joint venture. [cite web |url= |title=Electronic payments in Switzerland |publisher=Swiss National Bank | accessdate = 2006-06-16] SIC handled over 250 million transactions in 2005, with a turnover value of 41 trillion Swiss francs. [cite web |url= |title=SIC Statistics |publisher=Swiss Interbank Clearing | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

Major banks

As of 2006, there are 408 authorized banks and securities dealers in Switzerland, [cite web |url= |title=Authorised Banks and Securities Dealers |publisher=Swiss Federal Banking Commission |date=2006-06-06 | accessdate = 2006-06-17] ranging from the "Two Big Banks" down to small banks serving the needs of a single community or a few special clients.

UBS AG and Credit Suisse are respectively the largest and second largest Swiss banks and account for over 50% of all deposits in Switzerland; each has extensive branch networks throughout the country and most international centres.

Due to their size and complexity, UBS and Credit Suisse are subject to an extra degree of supervision from the Federal Banking Commission. [cite web |url= |title=Supervision of large banking groups |publisher=Swiss Federal Banking Commission | accessdate = 2006-06-17]


UBS came into existence in June 1998, when Union Bank of Switzerland, founded in 1862, and Swiss Bank Corporation, founded in 1872, merged. Headquartered in Zürich and Basel, it is Switzerland's largest bank. It maintains seven main offices around the world (four in the United States and one each in London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong) and branches on five continents. [cite web |url= |title=UBS-Locations |publisher=UBS AG | accessdate = 2006-06-19]

As of 2005, UBS had a net profit of US$7.2 billion, a market capitalization of over $100 billion, and 69,569 employees. [cite web |url= |title=Facts and Figures |publisher=UBS | accessdate = 2006-06-17]

UBS has used the slogan "You & Us" in their marketing communication. The slogan aims to highlight the firm's client-based approach. Source: [ UBS branding]

Credit Suisse

Credit Suisse is the second-largest Swiss bank. Based in Zürich, it was founded in 1856; its market capitalization (as of 2007) is $95.2 billion, and the company has about 40,000 employees. Credit Suisse Group offers private banking, investment banking and asset management services. It acquired The First Boston Corporation in 1988 and merged with the Winterthur insurance company in 1997; the latter was sold to AXA in 2006. [cite web |url= |title=Company Profile |publisher=Credit Suisse | accessdate = 2006-06-17]

Central Bank

The Swiss National Bank serves as the country's central bank. Founded by the Federal Act on the Swiss National Bank (16 January 1906), it began conducting business on 20 June 1907. Its shares are publicly traded, and are held by the cantons, cantonal banks, and individual investors; the federal government does not hold any shares. [cite web |url= |title=The National Bank as a joint-stock company |publisher=Swiss National Bank | accessdate = 2006-06-16] Although a central bank often has regulatory authority over the country's banking system, the CNB does not; regulation is solely the role of the Federal Banking Commission. [cite web |url= |title=Players |publisher=Swiss Bankers Association | accessdate = 2006-06-17]

Private banks - Private bankers

The term private bank refers to a bank that offers private banking services and in its legal form is a partnership. The first private banks were created in St. Gallen in the mid 1700s and in Geneva in the late 1700s as partnerships, and some are still in the hands of the original families such as Hottinger and Mirabaud. In Switzerland, such private banks are called private bankers (a protected term) to distinguish them from the other private banks which are typically shared corporations.

Cantonal banks

There are, as of 2006, 24 cantonal banks; these banks are state-guaranteed semi-governmental organizations controlled by one of Switzerland's 26 cantons that engage in all banking businesses. [cite web |url= |title=Bank groups |publisher=Swiss Bankers Association | accessdate = 2006-06-17] The largest cantonal bank, the Zürich Cantonal Bank, had a 2005 net income of CHF 810 million. [cite web |url= |title=ZKB Company Profile 2005 |publisher=Zürich Cantonal Bank | accessdate = 2006-06-17]

Banking privacy

Swiss bank secrecy protects private banking information; the protections afforded under Swiss law are similar to confidentiality protections between doctors and patients or lawyers and their clients. The Swiss government views the right to privacy as a fundamental principle that should be protected by all democratic countries. While secrecy is protected, in practice all bank accounts are linked to an identified individual, and a prosecutor or judge may issue a "lifting order" in order to grant law enforcement access to information relevant to a criminal investigation. [cite web |url= |title=Swiss Bank Secrecy |publisher=Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C. | accessdate = 2006-06-16]


Swiss law distinguishes between "tax evasion" and "tax fraud". International legal assistance is only granted with respect to tax fraud. In domestic prosecutions, banking secrecy may be lifted by court order in cases of tax fraud or particularly severe cases of tax evasion. [cite book|last=Locher|first=Peter|coauthors=Blumenstein, Ernst|title=System des schweizerischen Steuerrechts|publisher=Schulthess|location=Zürich|date=2002|edition=6th. ed.|isbn=3-7255-4342-9|page=476|language=German]

European Union

Pressure on Switzerland has been applied by several states and international organizations attempting to alter the Swiss privacy policy. The European Union, whose member countries geographically surround Switzerland, has complained about member states' nationals using Swiss banks to avoid taxation in their home countries. The EU has long sought a harmonized tax regime among its member states, although many Swiss banking officials (and, according to some polls, the public) are resisting any such changes. [cite web |url=,8599,348968,00.html |title=Silence Is Golden |publisher=Time Magazine |date=2002-09-08 |author=Gumbel, Peter | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

Since July 1, 2005, Switzerland has charged a withholding tax on all interest earned in the personal Swiss accounts of European Union residents. [cite web |url= |title=Singapore tax policy attracts Swiss account money |date=2006-02-06 |author=Taylor, Edward and Prystay, Cris |publisher=The Wall Street Journal | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

In 2001 and 2002, an amnesty was offered by the government of Italy in which taxes and penalties on repatriated funds were limited on funds repatriated from Switzerland; 30 to 35 billion euros worth of deposits were returned to Italy. [cite web |url= |title=Billions returned to Italy under tax amnesty |date=2002-05-15 |publisher=Swissinfo| accessdate = 2006-06-20] In 2003, a similar amnesty was approved by the government of Germany. [cite web |url= |title=German government paves way for tax amnesty |date=2003-06-18 |publisher=Swissinfo | accessdate = 2006-06-20|author=Brookes, Robert]

United States

In January 2003, the United States Department of Treasury announced a new information-sharing agreement under the already extant U.S.-Swiss Income Tax Convention; [cite web |url= |title=Treasury Announces Mutual Agreement with Switzerland Regarding Tax Information Exchange |accessdate=2008-06-20 |work=U.S. Dept. of Treasury (KD-3795) |date=2003-01-24 ] the agreement is intended to facilitate more effective tax information exchange between the two countries. Said a Treasury official, "This Mutual Agreement should improve our (Internal Revenue Service) access to needed information" under the terms of the tax treaty. [cite web |url= |title=U.S., Switzerland Agree to Facilitate Exchange of Tax Information |date=2003-01-24 |publisher=The United States Mission to the European Union | accessdate = 2006-06-18]

Swiss bank accounts cannot be opened without the holder signing a legal document asserting that they have no outstanding financial obligations to the IRS.

Money laundering

There are several measures in place to counter money laundering. The Money Laundering Act sets forth requirements of account holders' identification, and requires reporting of any suspicious transactions to the Money Laundering Reporting Office. [cite web |url= |title=Effective Legislation for Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism |publisher=Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C. | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

According to the CIA World Factbook, Switzerland is "a major international financial center vulnerable to the layering and integration stages of money laundering; despite significant legislation and reporting requirements, secrecy rules persist and nonresidents are permitted to conduct business through offshore entities and various intermediaries..." [cite web |url= |title=World Factbook - Switzerland - Transnational Issues |publisher=Central Intelligence Agency| accessdate = 2006-06-16] However, Switzerland's cooperation in transnational financial issues has been praised by several major U.S. officials. A Federal Bureau of Investigation anti-terrorism official noted that Switzerland was one of several countries to participate in joint task forces targeting financing of Al-Qaeda terrorist cells; a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury praised Swiss cooperation and the country's assistance in the finding and freezing of terrorist and Iraqi assets. [cite web |url= |title=U.S. Testimonials on Swiss Leadership in Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism |publisher=Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C. | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

Numbered bank accounts

Some bank accounts are afforded an extra degree of privacy. Information concerning such accounts, known as numbered accounts, is restricted to senior bank officers, rather than being accessible to all the employees of a bank. However, the information required to open such an account is no different from that of an ordinary account; completely anonymous accounts are prohibited by law. Should a criminal investigation take place, law enforcement has access to information related to a numbered account in the same way it has access to information about any other account. [cite web |url= |title=Swiss Banking Secrecy |publisher=Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C. | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

wiss banks and World War II

Several inquiries have been made into the conduct of Swiss banks during the Nazi Germany period (1933–1945), especially regarding funds deposited by or stolen from victims of the Holocaust.

In October 1996, as inquiries into the banks' activities during the Holocaust were ongoing, Swiss ambassador to the United States Carlo Jagmetti admitted that some banks prevented Holocaust survivors from accessing their funds, although he disputed the amounts claimed in lawsuits by survivors. Among those leading inquiries into the banks' conduct during the war was Alfonse D'Amato, a United States Senator from New York. [cite web |url= |title=Swiss envoy concedes 'mistakes,' but defends banking secrecy |publisher=CNN |date=1996-10-30 | accessmonthday=June 20, 1996] United Bank of Switzerland security guard Christoph Meili became a prominent whistleblower when he prevented the destruction of Holocaust-era records and brought attention to their existence. Due to his actions, Meili lost his job and received death threats; he became the first Swiss citizen ever granted political asylum in the United States. After settling in southern California, he was honored by the Los Angeles Jewish community. [cite web |url= |title=L.A. Jewish Community Honors Christoph Meili At May 8th Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel |date=2000-05-01 |publisher=PRNewswire | accessdate = 2006-05-20] Meili was supported financially by several Jewish organizations, and was offered a full scholarship at Chapman University in California. [cite web |url= |title=Swiss bank guard who saved Holocaust papers wins scholarship |date=1998-11-20 |publisher=CNN | accessdate = 2006-06-20] [cite web |url= |title=Guard who turned over Swiss banking files seeks protection in U.S. Senate visit |date=1997-05-07 |publisher=CNN | accessdate = 2006-06-20] In 1998, an international panel of historians released a study that claimed a significant amount of gold had been stolen from Holocaust victims, as well as the treasuries of conquered countries, and deposited in the Swiss National Bank. The panel found that, despite evidence of theft and wrongful acquisition of the gold, the SNB continued to accept the deposits. [cite web |url= |title=Study: Swiss bank stashed gold taken from Nazi camp victims |date=1998-05-25 |publisher=CNN| accessdate = 2006-06-16] In 2000, Judge Edward R. Korman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York approved a US$1.85 billion settlement between several Swiss banks and Holocaust victims. An estimated 50,000 accounts in Switzerland were opened by victims during the Nazi regime; some banks refused to make payments to victims' families because of the lack of death certificates. [cite web |url= |title=Swiss Nazi row ends in US court |date=2000-07-26 |publisher=BBC | accessdate = 2006-06-16] However, an article published on October 13, 2001 in "The Times" of London claimed that the tribunal entrusted with tracing Holocaust era accounts found that only 200 of the 5,570 abandoned foreign accounts in question, containing about 12 million dollars, could be traced back to Holocaust survivors; most of the abandoned accounts were owned by wealthy gentiles, and half the accounts contained less than 1,000 francs.

International competition

With recent changes in the Swiss bank secrecy regime, other states, such as Panama and Singapore, have attracted depositors seeking privacy and protection. Having taken steps to make its banks more attractive, Singapore strengthened penalties for violators of bank secrecy (and now imposes steeper fines and longer jail sentences for offenders), and modified its laws on trusts and inheritance. Singapore is also now the location of Credit Suisse's international banking headquarters. [cite web |url= |title=Singapore tax policy attracts Swiss account money |date=2006-02-06 |author=Taylor, Edward and Prystay, Cris |publisher=The Wall Street Journal | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

Panama on the other hand, is Latin America's largest banking centre, where major international banks are located. Often criticized for alleged non-compliance of banking regulations aimed to deter money laundering, in reality the Panamanian Banking Centre is far more strict than several states of the United States and other banking centres of the CaribbeanFact|date=August 2007.

ee also

*List of Banks in Switzerland
*Gold as an investment
*Offshore bank
*Swiss franc
*World Jewish Congress lawsuit against Swiss Banks


reflist|2 [ [ is the portal of Switzerland Private Banking] ]

External links

* [ The Swiss banking law, as amended] , from KPMG.
* [ Directory of Swiss Banks] .
* [ Swiss Postal Bank site] .
* [ Swiss Private Bank]

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