If you ask someone on the street where the most reliable banks in the world are located, most likely their thoughts will immediately turn to Switzerland. This country has long been the epitome of sound banking and secrecy in banking. It has been a magnet for generations of investors and HNWIs due to the famous Swiss banking secrecy, the stable Swiss economy, the Swiss franc reliability, the Swiss political neutrality, and the Swiss tax haven. Is there still such a thing as an anonymous secret bank account in Switzerland? Can you still trust the famous Swiss banking secrecy? Let us discuss this.
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The Origin of Swiss Bank Secrecy
The story of Swiss banking secrecy started during The Great Depression. In 1934, The Swiss Confederation passed a special Banking Act with an Article on Swiss bank secrecy protection.
Moreover, the tradition of bank secrecy (banking secrecy), i.e. financial privacy or banking discretion, goes back to a much earlier period. In 1713, the Geneva authorities adopted the rules banning Swiss bankers from revealing the names of their account holders and the amounts of their transactions. The era of banking secrecy began.
Since then and until recently, Swiss banks had been considered the stronghold of bank secrecy and the best destination for storing the wealth of the elite from all over the world. In 2017, after long years of international pressure, the Swiss government was forced to sign the OECD treaties on the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) and Common Reporting Standard (CRS). A year later, the first private data on clients was forwarded by Switzerland to foreign tax agencies in 100 signatory countries.
Since 2018, Swiss banking secrecy has become extinct for tax purposes in all the states participating in the AEOI treaties, and no money is left untaxed.
As of today, Swiss banking secrecy is dramatically different from the original notion and principles. By current Laws, anonymous banking /bank secrecy is conditional.
- On the one hand, Swiss bank secrecy is limited by the AEOI commitments in over 100 jurisdictions.
- On the other hand, the privacy of Swiss account holders’ data is still valid in the 90 countries that are not members of OECD treaties.
- Any disclosure of illegally obtained bank account information (for example, by journalists or whistle-blowers) is a criminal offense.
- Bank secrecy in Switzerland is a professional secret, and any banker’s negligence is subject to imprisonment or a solid fine.
The Rise of Swiss Banking Secrecy
Switzerland, as it turns out, is the birthplace of offshore tax havens, thanks to Swiss banking secrecy. How did this happen? After the bankers were forbidden to disclose or disseminate with third parties the clients’ names and financial transactions, they proposed to maintain strict bank secrecy over money, securities, property, and even documents of Swiss account holders. That was the beginning of a powerful banking industry based on Swiss banking secrecy.
In the early 1900s, Swiss accounts were very attractive to many HNWIs from around the world. In the years leading up to World War 1, Swiss banks would actively promote anonymous banking to international wealthy clients. The popularity of that special service was growing in the 1920s-1930s, especially after the introduction of income tax in many countries. Swiss banks offered non-residents to open an anonymous secret bank account so that the holder’s name and financial status were fully undisclosed.
For a long time, while tax fraud was qualified in Switzerland as a crime, tax evasion was not considered a sin. The old Swiss code of silence, the Banking Act, further editions of the Swiss bank secrecy laws, and the banks’ simplified customer verification procedures served the purpose of banking secrecy.
That situation with bank secrecy could not help but be abused by wrongdoers. Unfortunately, quite a few criminals, corrupt officials, and tax evaders could take advantage of Swiss bank safe deposit boxes. While protecting the principles of bank secrecy, the bank vaults hid their illegally obtained or undeclared valuables, capital, or foreign passports. Access to such safe deposit boxes was not by passport, but by a password.
No wonder many of the mysterious stories involving Swiss banks and clients inspired thrilling investigations and exposés in journalism, works of literature, and cinematography.
Throughout the 20th century, Switzerland was widely recognized as the world’s strongest bulwark of absolute banking secrecy. Swiss bank secrecy became a de facto hallmark of Switzerland.
The firmer Swiss banks refused to disclose information about their clients to government agencies, the more reliable and reputable they became in the eyes of the world’s elite.
Why do people use Swiss banks in 2023? Is banking secrecy a reason for opening Swiss bank accounts? Are the Swiss banks’ negative interests risky? To learn the answers, read our recent article and follow the forthcoming posts.
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The Beginning of the End of Swiss Banking Secrecy
As we have said, banking secrecy originated long before the Act of 1934. Therewith, it was not until 1932 that foreign authorities began to attack the entrenched principle of confidentiality in international banking and resist the hype around banking secrecy as a universal virtue. Swiss banking secrecy was accused of its contribution to crime rates. France was the first to sound the alarm.
The French government authorized a financial raid on the offices of Swiss banks in France. It revealed that Swiss bankers under the pretense of bank secrecy had set up a sophisticated system to help more than 1,000 clients evade capital gains and inheritance tax.
Although the raid was initially more of a political nature designed to distract a disgruntled public from the dismal results of the party in power, it was also a very clear warning to the Swiss banks that France did not consider their banking secrecy approach acceptable and would fight it by all means.
Switzerland responded by enhancing transparency and reducing banking secrecy, but not in the way that France had expected. Swiss financial institutions became more transparent to the local government, but less transparent to foreign government agencies after adopting the banking secrecy Act in 1934. It qualified any disclosure of the identity of Swiss bank clients to a foreign government as a criminal offense.
After World War 2, banks in many countries adopted similar policies of banking secrecy to attract foreign investment. The Swiss banking system became a role model for all states desperately striving to increase the inflow of foreign investment in their economies.
Unfortunately, combined with Switzerland’s political neutrality, Swiss banking secrecy was a too convenient shield for war criminals hiding their loot after World War 2. Besides, the fight against money laundering and tax evasion was taking shape in the world. That was the beginning of the end of the uncontested Swiss banking secrecy.
In the decades that followed, Swiss banks have not lost their grip on the world of offshore private banking. However, the situation with bank secrecy was considerably changing.
In the early 2000s, Swiss banks had to eventually give in to other governments’ demands for more transparency. The United States was ahead of all the most persistent governments putting pressure on Swiss banks to yield to their demands.
In 2013 Wegelin & Co. – the oldest bank in Switzerland and the 13th oldest bank on the globe became the first Swiss bank to plead guilty to money-laundering and tax evasion charges in a New York court. Though under Swiss law, the bank’s practice was legal, it had to pay millions in fines, and, allegedly, disclose the names of its US clients.
- The US government adopted the Foreign Accounts Compliance Act (FATCA), which forced foreign banks to report about their US clients. In parallel, the OECD developed the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). Both standards became a single tool for combatting tax evasion and weaken the Swiss Bank Secrecy Act.
- The USA is seen by many as the largest tax haven in the world offering solid tax incentives to international investors. In several tax-friendly states (e.g., Delaware, Wyoming, Florida, etc.) and Puerto Rico, foreigners can obtain citizenship, set up a company conducting business elsewhere in the world, open an account, save on some taxes, and enjoy other perks. Noteworthy, information about non-resident beneficial owners, their companies, and accounts in the United States is not disclosed by the US authorities. However, their worldwide income is taxed by the USA, and other countries are required to share information about US citizens’ income.
In the 2020s, Switzerland maintains exchanges of financial information with over 100 countries but has managed to retain the status of the most reliable banking system in the world. HNWIs from different countries still find it reasonable to hold accounts with Swiss banks. If you are interested in our experts’ recommendations, you are welcome to read the article about the top 10 Swiss banks and their strengths
Swiss Banking Secrecy and Swiss Banks in 2023
Over recent years, the Swiss banking business has been booming. The less secure the world, the bigger Swiss banks’ popularity.
In 2023, Swiss banks continue to attract foreign clients. Thanks to the Swiss Bank Secrecy legislation and other benefits, up to 1/3 of all the offshore assets in the world are managed in Swiss banks, and the demand for Swiss accounts for non-residents is growing.
In the ‘Financial Secrecy Index 2022’ of the ‘Tax Justice Network’ Switzerland ranks 2nd by the degree of bank secrecy, following the USA and followed by Singapore.
Herewith, Switzerland maintains information exchanges with tax bodies in many countries under OECD AEOI and the Swiss Double Tax Treaties.
Swiss banks are now among the most regulated in the world, both internally and externally. Even if you can work your way through Swiss banking bureaucracy, you won’t be able to hide your money from your country’s government, nor will you get any special tax breaks. The bureaucratic nuisances have become so great that there is an entire industry of people who help you meet, open, and operate an account with one of the Swiss banks.
One of the things our readers often ask about offshore banks, especially the Swiss ones, is the question: ‘Can I trust Swiss banking secrecy in 2023?’.
To answer shortly, no. The absolute banking secrecy that used to be the signature feature of Swiss banks in the 20th century, does not exist any longer. Numbered bank accounts which used to be attractive in the past, are not worth the effort in the 21st century.
That said, Swiss banking secrecy is not about tax evasion any longer. There is much more to it.
Nowadays, the main advantages of opening offshore or foreign bank accounts are associated with the ideas of diversification, stability, asset protection, settlements in different currencies, and the ability to access a variety of investment opportunities that you may not be able to find in your own country.
While Swiss banks are no longer able to keep your financial secrets from the government, many of them can still do an excellent job of keeping your secrets from criminal encroachments and legal claims of a non-tax nature. Swiss banking secrecy can provide you protection against wrongdoers – criminals, corrupt officers, fraudsters, and other malicious persons who may try to put pressure on you to grab some of your assets. We do not mean to imply that such encroachments on personal property are a global problem. Yet, it is good to know that bank secrecy laws in Switzerland and banking secrecy measures in several other countries will restrict the amount of information an average banker or teller will hold about your account.
Besides, although Swiss banks are obliged to report information about account holders to the tax authorities, they have to follow very strict rules of banking secrecy regarding which bankers can have access to what data about their clients.
Swiss banking secrecy is guaranteed by the following laws:
- Swiss Banking Act (1934, Article 43)
- Civil law (Article 28 Civil Code)
- Data Protection Act
If you intend to open an account with a Swiss bank in compliance with the laws of relevant jurisdictions, you can choose our turnkey services and take advantage of the famous Swiss bank secrecy along with your Swiss account.
Are Swiss Banks the Best in the World?
This question is rather difficult to answer, as it depends on the context and who is asking it.
If you had your account with a Swiss bank because of the ultimate banking secrecy available in the past, the current unfolding information exchange may mean for you that Switzerland is no longer the land of the world’s stronghold of bank secrecy.
However, we have to recognize that Swiss banks can’t remain completely isolated from global trends. So, one has to find a balance between transparency and the incentives offered by a particular Swiss bank.
Besides, you can take advantage of alternative solutions: set up an offshore company or a trust, resort to fiduciary management, transfer and invest your assets overseas, and other options.
You can rely on our services in opening offshore accounts as your main or reserve vehicles. Our experts help to select the most favorable jurisdiction, the most suitable banks, and the most appropriate accounts and assist in the application chores in the most effective way.
Are Swiss Banks reliable in 2023?
What is the reliability of a bank? Can it be measured by the degree of banking secrecy? One can argue that it must be also the guaranteed access to one’s assets in the account and the immunity of deposited funds to financial kidnapping and seizure.
Swiss banking secrecy, although not as secure as before 2017, remains a legitimate principle and liability under Swiss bank laws.
The unauthorized disclosure of information about accounts and beneficiaries is punishable.
Tax evasion and tax fraud are considered criminal acts since 2015.
Switzerland participates in information exchange with Tax authorities in over 100 countries-signatories of the OECD treaties.
Therewith, it does not share information about beneficial owners of Swiss bank accounts with non-participating countries.
Swiss banks’ reliability goes as far as the following advantages:
- conditional banking secrecy
- economic peace of mind of account holders
- strong Swiss franc as an uncompromising currency not affected by dollar volatility
- possibility to open Swiss bank accounts online
- secure technologies of online authorization and e-banking
- possibility to open an anonymous secret bank account – by a digital code, not by personal information
- availability of multicurrency accounts and currency diversification
- high capitalization of Swiss banks, with all private banks in Switzerland featuring the highest Tier 1 capital ratios in the world
- access to private equity, off-market real estate, hedge funds, exclusive Club Deals, etc.
- variety of Swiss banks: cantonal and national banks, neobanks, and other advanced international financial institutions offering a wide range of products and services with guarantees of banking secrecy and access from any part of the world.
If you would like to ask more questions about Swiss banks, accounts, application procedures, and Swiss banking secrecy, we will be happy to answer them during a private online session with our experts. To book a free consultation, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or messengers given at the top of this page.
How far does Swiss banking secrecy go today?
Has Switzerland retained the guarantees of Swiss bank secrecy? No, Swiss bank secrecy is not in existence any longer in terms of absolute banking secrecy. First, all Swiss bank accounts are transparent to the Swiss tax authorities. Second, Switzerland has commitments to the tax authorities of many countries within the system of automatic exchange of financial information.
However, the transfer of any information is subject to strict control and regulation, and bankers in Switzerland are liable for any negligence and leaks (punishable by huge fines and imprisonment).
Moreover, banking information is classified for the public, including journalists or whistleblowers. The violation of this bank secrecy principle is punishable and subject to provisions of the Swiss Banking Act (1934, Article 43), Civil law (Article 28 Civil Code), and the Data Protection Act.
Who benefits from opening accounts with Swiss banks and other financial institutions?
Anyone who has more than 1 million euros, francs, or dollars and is prepared to manage these funds passively can benefit from Swiss bank accounts. Swiss banks have a great experience in long-term large capital management.
If you are used to managing your funds all by yourselves and do not like to play the long game, then Switzerland is not your best option. You should better consider less conventional banks and countries that provide more freedom for non-professional investors.
Anyway, you are welcome to discuss and choose the winning strategy with our experts during a one-on-one session online.
Can I open a Swiss bank account remotely?
Yes, some banks are ready to do this. However, you will still need an online interview with the bank manager.
In case you decide to apply for a Swiss bank account, there are certain compliance requirements you need to be aware of. We provide online consultations, so you can rely on our seasoned professional advisors.
Besides general advice and instruction on Swiss bank account opening, we can offer turnkey services, starting with the preparation of the required application documents. Please note that your proof of the legal origin of your funds needs to be credible and certified.