There is a common misconception that people who cannot store their unaccounted wealth in their own country open accounts in Swiss banks. Even though this may be true to an extent, Swiss banks are well known for their sophisticated and discreet banking services.
Many of the rich and famous like film stars, business entrepreneurs, top government officials, presidents, etc, are reputed to have Swiss bank accounts. Then again, it is also said one need not be a multi-millionaire to open a Swiss bank account.
Brief Background of the Swiss Banking System
One of the most prosperous and economically advanced nations, Switzerland has the world’s largest gross domestic product (GDP). There are nearly 400 banks in Switzerland, which range from the “Two Big Banks”, to smaller banks, serving single communities or selective clients. Considered as the world’s largest offshore financial center, the Swiss banking sector is renowned for its privacy, stability and protection of their customer’s information and assets. The Federal Banking Commission (FBC) regulates these banks.
Opening a Swiss Account
Often freely available, a Swiss bank account provides total confidentiality, strict privacy, and is tax-free. However, certain documents are required as proof to open a Swiss account. For example, people who are not residents of Switzerland need to furnish their passports, along with a passport size photograph. Depending on the profession, a current bank statement would be required to determine the client’s current financial condition. Along with this, certain personal information, like the date of birth, country of origin, etc., is also required.
A useful feature of Swiss banking is that it can also be done via correspondence as long as the customers follow bank rules and regulations. The bank and customer could interact through the Internet, telephone or snail mail.
However, a drawback of Swiss banking is that non-residents are expected to pay a hefty amount as deposit, and, the smaller accounts are more expensive to maintain. There is a clause especially for US citizens wherein they are expected to refrain from making any business transaction through their Swiss accounts, to keep their account privacy intact.
A security deposit is needed in case the customer wants to obtain a credit card. Approximately 1.5 to 2 times the monthly credit limit is demanded, depending on the bank the customer chooses. This deposit is returned when the customer decides to discontinue the credit card, and has paid all outstanding bills.
There are legends about mysterious numbered accounts in Swiss banks. Some high security bank accounts are given pseudonyms or special names instead of issuing them in the name of the customer, to preserve the anonymity of the customer. This number or name is used wherever the customer is referred. Moreover, even bank employees are expected to respect the customer’s privacy, the failure of which could land them in prison for several months.
However, Swiss banks, being very particular about preventing money laundering, crosscheck the authenticity of the information provided by the customer. If, during the scrutiny, the bank finds the information of a potential or existing customer connected to some criminal activity, a Swiss judge or prosecutor issues a lifting order. These investigations could include international criminal investigation for tax fraud, insider trading, or the infamous terrorist financing of recent times.
Closing of an Account
Despite a few negative notions about Swiss banking, closing an account is said to be easier than expected. No financial penalty is demanded, and neither is the money held hostage, like it is done in other off shore banking.
To conclude, the secrecy and discreet nature of Swiss banking makes them convenient and dependable. This not only helps customers to save money, but also is a viable means of attaining economic superiority in the business world and society as a whole.