Swiss banks have been providing services to non-resident clients for centuries and they have always offered the highest levels of banking services and account holders’ confidentiality. The notion of ‘banking secrecy’ has been associated with Switzerland for decades.
Unfortunately, we live in an epoch when privacy of banking information is unavailable. Today, banking secrecy is not associated with reputability any longer but rather with semi-legal tax optimization schemes. The fight against offshore schemes has been so active over the last three decades that even the highly conservative banking sector of Switzerland has had to submit to the pressure.
To avoid international economic sanctions, Switzerland has had to make concessions to the EU and FATF. As a result, you can forget about banking privacy if you bank in Europe today.
Without doubt, the Swiss bankers do whatever they can to keep the account holders’ information private. However, their opportunities to do so are limited. In accordance with the new rules and with the CRS regulations in particular, Swiss banks have to report their non-resident clients’ information to the fiscal bodies of Switzerland. The latter pass on the information to the fiscal bodies of the clients’ home countries.
Sad as the situation with banking privacy may be in Switzerland, people from all over the world continue to bank in the country. Swiss banks still offer a large number of weighty advantages to foreign clients. Banking in Switzerland is an attractive opportunity indeed but opening a foreign bank account is a much more challenging task than opening a bank account in your home country. We suggest that you should apply for personal assistance in setting up a bank account in Switzerland. You do need assistance in performing the task because you may well be unaware of a certain little detail and make a certain little mistake that will lead to service denial.
Why should you bank in Switzerland?
There are several good reasons for banking in Switzerland. First, Switzerland is probably the most politically and economically stable country in Europe and the whole world. The country has not participated in any military conflicts for centuries already. Even when the political map of Europe changed dramatically in the first half of the 20th century, Switzerland remain surprisingly intact and stable. The recent economic crises, including the global financial crisis of 2008 have also had little impact on Switzerland. This sort of financial stability makes Switzerland the best place where you can keep your money.
Second, the Swiss economy is well developed and highly diversified. You can not only keep your money in Switzerland but also invest it in local business ventures. If you do, yours will be low-risk investments due to the astounding political and economic stability of the country.
Third, the financial sector is superb in Switzerland. The banking traditions have been building for centuries in the country and in the 20th century, Switzerland was used by wealthy people and corporations from all around the world as a safe vault for keeping the money. In the times when banking privacy was an advantage rather than a reason for suspicions, Swiss banks turned providing financial services into a cult. Nowhere else in the world can the bank client find such an amazing treatment on the part of the bankers.
We have to note that even though the Swiss banks keep up with the pace of time, they remain conservative in many respects. Every Swiss bank will offer Internet banking opportunities, of course, but setting up an account with a Swiss bank still takes considerable time. Besides, many banks in the country have tough requirements to the minimum deposit/ security balance amounts. In addition to that, they have recently started declining application for services from ‘suspiciously looking’ customers. Some Swiss banks do not want to have anything to do with clients from offshore jurisdictions. Some other banks in the country do not provide services to clients residing outside (Western) Europe.
What Swiss bank should you choose?
Currently, over 250 banks are functional in Switzerland and most of them provide services to non-residents. There are various official ratings of Swiss banks but even the highest rankings that a particular bank has do not guarantee that it is going to be the best choice for you personally. Below we discuss several characteristics of Swiss banks that you have to take into consideration when choosing where to open an account.
For example, some Swiss banks have divisions that service only clients from Switzerland and those that service only foreign clients. Naturally, specialized banking services are preferable to universal services.
The availability of client support in your native language also may be an issue. German, French, and Italian are official languages in Switzerland plus everybody speaks English in the country. However, finding a Swiss bank that provides client support in Spanish, for example, might be a problem.
The next important criterion is the attitude of the bank towards offshore jurisdictions. Some Swiss banks are extremely concerned with their reputation and they refuse pointblank to work with clients from blacklisted countries. Even if your company is registered in a ‘white’ jurisdiction but it has business dealings with counteragents in Belize, the BVI or the UAE, for instance, banking services may be denied to you in Switzerland.
Some Swiss banks provide services only to ultra-high net worth individuals and they have tough requirements to the amounts of the initial deposit and the security balance as well as the amounts of transactions.
If you do not live in Switzerland or in the EU and you do not spend very much time in the region, the number of outlets and the ATMs that the bank has is of no concern to you. Instead, some other factors may be of importance:
- Opportunities for remote account opening or fast account opening;
- Opportunities to use the card issued by the bank in your home country;
- Opportunities to use different national currencies when opening a bank account in Switzerland;
- Opportunities for remote account management.
You can hardly find a perfect option but it is possible to open a bank account in a Swiss bank that offers the following services:
- It takes individual and corporate clients onboard;
- It does not deny services to clients connected with offshore jurisdictions;
- It does not ask for a high initial deposit;
- It provides client support in English;
- It gives remote account management opportunities;
- It issues plastic cards that can be used internationally.
An opportunity to open a bank account remotely would also be valuable but unfortunately, only a few large Swiss banks offer such an opportunity.
Opening an account with a Swiss bank: what to expect
You should bear several factors in mind if you want to set up a bank account in Switzerland. First, non-residents face tougher requirements. For example, a utility bill counts as a conclusive confirmation of residential address in most countries but not in Switzerland. You will have to bring an extract from the property register or a notarized rent agreement when applying for banking services in the country.
Second, even if all your application documents are in perfect order, you will have to wait for at least 2 to 3 weeks before your Swiss bank account is activated.
Third, you should be aware of the account activation deposit that most Swiss banks require. You have to deposit at least 5 thousand Swiss francs to activate a personal account and at least 10 thousand francs to activate a corporate account. One thousand is going to be ‘frozen’ as a security deposit while you can use the rest of the money once the account is activated.
Even if the bank opens accounts remotely, a video interview is going to be required anyway. Luckily, video conferencing applications are readily available.
As you can see, setting up a bank account in Switzerland is a rather demanding task but you will gain a lot of benefits if you manage to complete it.