Banking in Switzerland.December 29, 2020
Banking in Switzerland dates to the early eighteenth century through Switzerland‘s merchant trade and has, over the centuries, grown into a complex, regulated, and international industry. Banking is seen as emblematic of Switzerland, along with the Swiss Alps, Swiss chocolate, watchmaking and mountaineering. Switzerland has a long, kindred history of banking secrecy and client confidentiality reaching back to the early 1700s. Starting as a way to protect wealthy European banking interests, Swiss banking secrecy was codified in 1934 with the passage of the landmark federal law, the Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks. These laws, which were used to protect assets of persons being persecuted by Nazi authorities, have also been used by people and institutions seeking to illegally evade taxes, hide assets, or generally commit financial crime.
Swiss banking secrecy was born in Geneva during the 1700s.
Bank secrecy in the Swiss region can be traced to the Great Council of Geneva which outlawed the disclosure of information about the European upper class in 1713. As a way of avoiding the Protestant banking system, Catholic French Kings deposited their holdings in Geneva accounts. During the 1780s, Swiss bank accounts began insuring deposits which contributed to their reputation for financial security In 1815, the Congress of Vienna formally established Switzerland’s international neutrality which led to a large capital influx. The wealthy, landlocked Switzerland saw banking secrecy as a way to build an empire similar to that of France, Spain, and the United Kingdom Swiss historian Sébastian Guex
As of 2018, there are more than 400 securities dealers and banking institutions in Switzerland, ranging from the “Two Big Banks” down to small banks serving the needs of a single community or a few special clients. The largest and second largest Swiss banks are UBS Group AG and Credit Suisse Group AG, respectively. They account for over 50% of all deposits in Switzerland; each has extensive branch networks throughout the country and most international centers. Due to their size and complexity, UBS and Credit Suisse are subject to an extra degree of supervision from the Federal Banking Commission.
Banking in Switzerland, in particular Swiss banking secrecy practices, has been detailed in global popular culture to varying degrees of accuracy. According to official statements from the Swiss National Film Archives, inaccurate or exaggerated portrayals negatively impact Switzerland by reducing bankers to unflattering “caricatures” that are “ever disposed to accept funds from questionable sources”. In 2014, Sindy Schmiegel, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) stressed that financial regulation in Switzerland is dramatically more strict than portrayed fictionally. The Economic Times noted that popular culture portrays Swiss bank accounts as “completely anonymous” later adding “this is simply not true.”
In March 2015, the Swiss government entered into bilateral “Rubik Agreements” with Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom allowing foreign holders of Swiss bank accounts to retain their anonymity in exchange for paying predetermined back taxes. Switzerland adopted the International Convention on the Automatic Exchange of Banking Information (AEOI) in 2017, agreeing to automatically release limited financial information to certain countries for the sole purpose of tax auditing. This agreement includes the Common Reporting Standard