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Information for bank clients

Information for bank clients

This page features answers to questions that frequently arise in connection with banks and banking services in Switzerland.

Opening a bank account

Who can open a Swiss bank account?

In principle, any adult person can open an account at a bank in Switzerland. However, the legal provisions of the home country with regard to cross border business have to be respected. Banks reserve furthermore the right to reject customers. For example, a bank might refuse to offer banking services to a so-called "politically-exposed person" who the bank believes would pose too great a reputational risk if he or she were to become a client. A bank might also refuse to start a banking relationship if it has doubts about the origins of the potential client's funds because Swiss banks are forbidden by law to accept money which they know or must assume stem from crime.

Can a company open an account?

Any company may open a Swiss bank account irrespective of whether its registered office is in Switzerland or abroad. If the company's registered office is in Switzerland then the company is identified with the relevant extract from the Swiss Commercial Register which the bank may download from the relevant website. The identity of legal entities not listed in the Swiss Commercial Register is verified on the basis of their charters or equivalent documents. Companies with their registered office abroad must respect the legal provisions of their home country with regard to cross border business in the first place. Apart from that, the procedure for domestic companies may be followed. However, if the registered office is in a country that does not operate an official commercial register then the company must prove it exists by showing equivalent relevant credentials. Extracts from commercial registers or equivalent documents must not be older than 12 months. A document that is older than 12 months may be used in conjunction with an audit report or a "certificate of good standing" issued within the past 12 months.

Special rules apply to domiciliary companies. Under Swiss law "domiciliary companies" are entities that do not conduct any commercial or manufacturing business or any other form of commercial operation in the country where their registered office is located. Besides producing the identification documents mentioned above they must also declare the identity of the beneficial owners of their assets.

How can I open an account from my home country?

First of all it must be understood that Swiss banks have very strict procedures concerning the opening of accounts. In accordance with Swiss laws governing "due diligence", the bank must verify the identity of the customer on the basis of an official document (e.g. a passport). If the Swiss bank you are interested in has a subsidiary, branch or representative office in your country you may consider contacting that office. If the bank is not represented in your country, please get in touch directly with the bank in Switzerland which will then provide you with further information.

What questions will the bank ask me?

First of all, the bank's staff will certainly ask questions to fulfil the bank's legal obligations with regard to due diligence. This will include asking for proof of your identity and also establishing the identity of the beneficial owner of the assets if you are depositing funds on behalf of someone else. The bank's staff might also ask about the origin of the funds, the nature of your professional business, your general financial situation and your usual financial transactions.
First of all, the bank's staff will certainly ask questions to fulfil the bank's legal obligations with regard to due diligence. This will include asking for proof of your identity and also establishing the identity of the beneficial owner of the assets if you are depositing funds on behalf of someone else. The bank's staff might also ask about the origin of the funds, the nature of your professional business, your general financial situation and your usual financial transactions. - See more at: https://www.swissbanking.org/en/home/finanzplatz-link/faq.htm#sthash.aeZW8YNQ.dpuf

What documentation will the bank want to see?

As mentioned above, Swiss banks are obliged to verify the identity of a client. For this reason a bank would very much prefer to meet you face-to-face for an initial discussion. The bank will certainly want to see official identification papers such as a valid passport or an equivalent official identification document containing a photograph. The bank may also ask for documentation that can prove the origin of your funds, such as the contract for a house sale, a statement from a foreign bank, a receipt from the sale of securities, etc.

Can I open an "anonymous" account?

No. There is no such thing as an "anonymous" account in Switzerland. Under Swiss law, the bank must know who you are. Anonymous accounts at Swiss banks exist only in the imagination of thriller writers!

What about a "numbered" accounts?

The procedure for opening a "numbered" account is exactly the same as for any other type of account. The bank must verify your identity and establish the identity of the beneficial owner. "Numbered" accounts are certainly not anonymous. With a "numbered" account your business within the bank is carried out not under your name but under a number or code. This is simply an internal security measure to restrict knowledge of the customer's identity to a small group of employees in the bank and apart from this a "numbered" account enjoys no additional privileges in terms of confidentiality. "Numbered" accounts should not be used for international wire transfers. According to international regulations the client's name, address and account number must be given when making international wire transfers.

Is there a minimum opening deposit?

For clients with their domicile outside of Switzerland a minimal amount regarding credit balance and asset deposit is usually requested. Due to highly increased costs for due diligence procedures concerning the legitimacy of foreign funds, banks often don’t offer savings accounts and current accounts to retail clients with a domicile abroad anymore. Usually, banking services for foreigners are only offered in connection with additional services such as wealth management.

Does the account have to be in Swiss francs?

No. Many banks offer accounts in US dollars, euros and other currencies besides the Swiss franc.

How safe are Swiss banks?

All banks operating in Switzerland must be licensed by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA. The FINMA, which is a member of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, regulates and supervises all banks in Switzerland according to the Basel Committee's standards. These standards cover not only equity and capital adequacy but also the entire scope of prudential and behavioural rules. As an additional safety measure, Swiss law demands capital adequacy standards that are even higher than those required by the Basel Capital Accord. Swiss banks can therefore certainly be counted amongst the safest in the world. All banks are obliged to be members of esisuisse (deposit protection of the Swiss banks), which takes effect should a bank nevertheless become insolvent; more information on this topic is available at www.esisuisse.ch.

How "secret" are Swiss banks?

In Switzerland great importance has traditionally been attached to the protection of an individual's privacy, and this has always included financial privacy. Surveys consistently show that the majority of Swiss people want to maintain this protection of the private sphere. However, the high level of confidentiality Swiss banks offer both their domestic and foreign customers is not absolute and certainly does not shield criminals. As a matter of principle, the rights to privacy can be suspended when a criminal investigation is underway, also in the case of tax offences, for example. Our aim is to protect the privacy of the honest bank client while exposing criminals to the full force of the law.

Moneay Laundering

What is money laundering?

Money laundering is the covert introduction of illegally acquired assets into the legitimate economy with the aim of disguising their true illegal origin.

This may take place in three phases:
Phase 1: placement

In this phase, the assets (primarily cash) are paid into banksbank accounts and thus turned into bank money, or used to purchase assets that can be liquidated at short notice such as jewellery or art objects.
Phase 2: layering

The goal of this phase is to spread the money placed in phase 1. It often involves complex international transactions using, amongst other things, offshore banks and bogus companies. Another way to spread the money is via a myriad of confusing and seemingly unconnected transfers.
Phase 3: integration

The integration phase is when the assets are reintroduced into the legal economy, which may involve purchasing assets (e.g. real estate or precious metals) or shareholdings, etc.

Money laundering is usually associated with drug trafficking or organised crime. However, there are many other crimes which may be predicate offences to money laundering, e.g. embezzlement, corruption, extortion or human trafficking, to name just a few. Serious tax offences can now also constitute predicate offences to money laundering..

What does Switzerland do to combat money laundering?

Switzerland’s mechanisms for combating money laundering, which were established with the Agreement on Due Diligence (CDB) in 1977 and have been expanding ever since, today include provisions in the Swiss Penal Code (Art. 305bis and 305ter StGB), the Federal Act on Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing in the Financial Sector (AMLA) and a corresponding Ordinance of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (FINMA Anti-Money Laundering Ordinance, AMLO-FINMA) as well as the previously mentioned self-regulation guidelines of the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA)

Swiss law is therefore broadly in compliance with the international recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The FATF report on the third country evaluation of April 2005 attested that Switzerland has a well-functioning network of preventative measures against money laundering and terrorist financing. However, the Federal Department of Finance (FDF) did look into the implementation of individual criticisms that FATF experts had levelled at Switzerland's anti-money laundering mechanisms and adapted both AMLA and AMLO-FINMA accordingly. In 2012 the FATF revised its 40 recommendations, which is why they must now be transposed into national law.

The new provisions adopted within the framework of the bill for the implementation of the revised FATF recommendations concern in particular:

- bearer shares
- establishing the beneficial owners of legal entities
- politically exposed persons ("PEPs")
- serious tax offences as a predicate to money laundering
- ban on cash payments of over CHF 100,000.00
- improving the efficiency of the reporting system and
- better combating of terrorist financing by means of terror lists.

In order to comply with the revised FATF recommendations, the CDB is also being revised in order to address, in particular, the beneficial ownership of legal entities or the beneficial ownership of assets.

The CDB, which is issued by the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) as a set of self-regulation guidelines and is generally revised and updated every five years, has since 1977 laid down the obligations of banks with regard to the identification of clients and beneficial owners. In addition it prohibits active assistance in the flight of capital and tax evasion. The statutory bank auditors are commissioned by the banks and FINMA to verify bank compliance with this Agreement. Special investigators and a CDB Supervisory Board assess breaches of the Agreement. In the event of a breach of the CDB, a fine of up to CHF 10 million may be imposed on the bank in question, which will subsequently be used by the SBA for a non-profit purpose.

Protection of privacy

What is protection of privacy?

The right to privacy is a key principle of the Swiss legal order and is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution (art. 13 FC). In the financial sector and in securities trading, it is protected by bank-client confidentiality pursuant to Article 47 of the Federal Law on Banks and Savings Banks (BankG). However, it does not protect abuse, e.g. by criminals.

Does the protection of privacy also protect criminals?

No, since the right to privacy has never been absolute. Swiss banks are obliged, for example, to disclose information in criminal proceedings against their clients, regardless of whether the offence has been committed in Switzerland or abroad. Compared with other countries Switzerland has always been very successful at combating organised crime and money laundering. With its new financial-centre strategy, Switzerland also gives administrative assistance to the tax authorities of other countries in the fight against tax fraud, and it participates in the international Standard for Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information (Common Reporting Standard, CRS).

Is it possible to open a bank account anonymously in Switzerland?

No, that is not possible. Banks follow so-called "Know-your-customer"rules which require staff to identify the person opening an account and, where necessary, to establish the identity of the beneficial owner. Incidentally it was the banks themselves who drew up the extremely strict, internationally recognised rules for verifying the identity of their clients as a deterrent to money of criminal origin.

But aren't numbered accounts anonymous?

No, contrary to what one might gather from thrillers and the media, there is no such thing as an anonymous account in Switzerland. The name of the holder of a numbered account is known, though only to a small group of people inside the bank. As far as bank-customer confidentiality is concerned there is no difference between numbered accounts and any other sort of account.