There can be absolutely no doubt that Switzerland today still stands as the world’s best and largest all-round offshore banking and asset protection haven. Switzerland certainly has a reputation to protect – and we are not talking about Rolexes or chocolates!
Around one-quarter of global assets managed offshore in the entire world are managed in Swiss banks – and that is not including the assets that Swiss banks manage in other financial centres like New York, London and Singapore. A recent report by Deloitte, for example, shows how Switzerland clearly eclipses competing havens like Hong Kong, Singapore, Panama or the Caribbean.
Swiss banks beat their competitors not just in respect of pure assets under management numbers (AUM) but also in areas such as dynamism, competitiveness, and adoption of modern technologies such as fintech and blockchain.
In this article we list International Wealth’s top 10 Swiss banks that will open accounts for offshore clients – and in most cases these days, you don’t even have to travel to Switzerland since accounts can be opened remotely.
But hasn’t it become impossible to open a Swiss Bank Account?
First, let’s dispel a myth: some people think it is no longer possible to open a Swiss bank account! This idea is actually ridiculous – how could Switzerland continue to manage a quarter of the entire world’s offshore wealth if they were not opening new accounts?
We understand, however, how this misconception arose. Swiss banking compliance has indeed become very strict, so Swiss banks are rejecting a lot of run-of-the-mill clients. Demand for Swiss bank accounts is so huge at a global level that Swiss banks can well afford to be picky. It is very unlikely that you could just walk in (whether literally or virtually) to a Swiss bank these days and open an account. Most business comes through word of mouth and trusted referrers, particularly External Asset Managers.
To be accepted at a top Swiss bank, therefore, it pays to have professional help – to have someone on your side who knows the business inside out, like International Wealth. We can help you present your documents properly.
Cost of Opening a Swiss Bank Account
Swiss banking is not necessarily the cheapest option. It is a premium quality option. Switzerland’s reputation speaks for itself. But the Swiss are also good negotiators.
The good news is that rather than costing extra for the client, our clients typically save money on their Swiss bank accounts because we know how to recommend the best Swiss bank negotiate the best fees with the bank based on your background. Even though we charge an up-front fee for account opening, we welcome almost all comparisons. If you are already the client of a Swiss private bank, you can ask us to help you with a comparison to see
Minimum Deposit to Open an Offshore Swiss Bank Account
Typically you will need about a million dollars or euros to be accepted for a Swiss bank account, but amongst the 246 banks operating in Switzerland today there is something for everyone. If you are either an extremely low risk client, or a client who could be high risk but high reward for the bank, you can open accounts with less. Younger people can open private banking accounts with less money if they can demonstrate the potential to grow assets quickly. And for the smaller investors, there are plenty of online banks like Swissquote and Dukascopy that still accept cross-border business.
Can I open a Corporate or Trust Account in Switzerland?
It has become a lot harder. These days, an offshore company or trust can certainly open an account in a Swiss bank, but it will be first and foremost an account for investment purposes. You will be expected to make a substantial deposit (at least a million) and you will not be allowed to make a lot of payments in and out.
What about corporate treasury for an offshore company? If you just need to use the account for corporate treasury, for example sending money to and from your operative account in another bank or payment system, or perhaps receiving one regular monthly payment in from a subsidiary company or long term business partner, this may be possible and can be negotiated with the bank. It is also very important that you have all your substance and audited financial statements in order.
Top Ten Swiss Banks
Here, then, are some of the Swiss banks that your International Wealth team recommend in 2021. We have presented them in a particular order that we think will help you understand the topic if you read through them in the same order. It may not make sense at the beginning, but if you read it from top to bottom it will.
UBS is the largest Swiss bank in the world. We have to say that In Swiss banking, our preference is for small, boutique banks. Boutique banks tend have better service than huge global banks. There is no denying, however, UBS’s global reach and access to very specialist financial products is attractive to some clients. UBS offers excellent service to the type of client who already owns a private jet, but its private banking offering is really very “mass market” for smaller clients.
It’s worth noting that UBS does have a subsidiary bank in Switzerland that is dedicated exclusively to US clients. It operates under the same UBS brand, but with different staff operating out of different offices. This niche subsidiary bank has generated excellent feedback from American clients (US citizens and green card holders) wanting Swiss bank accounts.
Pictet is also a huge bank, with interests around the globe. It differs from UBS in that it is not involved in investment banking, but focuses entirely on wealth management. Those in the know who feel more comfortable with a very large bank will probably find it a better alternative to UBS. Pictet is therefore our preference for the average type of client, who values a big international brand.
With Dreyfus Bank, we are getting closer to the traditional idea of a Swiss bank. Dreyfus is one of the oldest Swiss banks and is currently managed by the sixth generation of the founding family. It represents real Swiss tradition, but has modernized. For those who are looking for a real Swiss bank, rather than a global group with a Swiss base, Dreyfus might be the ideal solution. It operates only within Switzerland (it’s good to focus), but also has a representative office in Israel. We have particularly good reports of Dreyfus from readers of our Russian language International Wealth portal who have opened accounts there.
Reichmuth is the ultimate, boutique, exclusive bank on our list. It is for those who believe in a combination of exclusivity, premium personal service and tradition. Based in a castle in Lausanne, It was only formed in 1988 – but Reichmuth is one of fewer than a dozen private banks left operating In Switzerland in the most traditional sense.
To explain what this really means – none of the other banks listed in this article are allowed to call themselves Private Banks under Swiss law. In Switzerland, the term “private banker” refers to banks whose legal status is one of individual ownership, registered partnership, limited partnership or limited partnership with shares. Unlike other Swiss banks offering private banking services organized as limited liability companies, then, the partners carry unlimited liability for the bank’s commitments and assets. That has to say something about their commitment to their business. This is not your typical bank with high staff turnover!
As you probably know, BNP Paribas is a French bank – the biggest French commercial bank. But it has a long history in Switzerland – among other things, BNP Paribas’ predecessor bank financed the excavations for the Gotthard and Simplon tunnels, funded various railway projects and the Swiss national exhibition in 1896.
BNP Paribas has a respectable and fairly standard wealth management offering in Switzerland, but the reason it made our top ten list is the ability for its clients to use the platform for global investing. BNP Paribas owns Europe’s largest real estate company, and private banking clients at the Swiss offices could equally use their Swiss accounts to finance real estate in places like London or Madrid, Paris or the French Riviera, that would not be possible in some of the smaller Swiss banks. They are currently offering some interesting commercial real estate investment opportunities in Europe.
The bank is also one of the largest commercial banks in Europe (it has a special fintech division for example) and also has a good footprint in Africa and Asia. As a group policy they don’t accept offshore companies, but they certainly allow clients to mix private and commercial banking.
J. SAFRA SARASIN
This is a Swiss bank we like a lot, mainly because of its multi-jurisdictional booking possibilities and unique global coverage.
It’s a Swiss bank with an interesting non-Swiss heritage. In the 1800s there was a Jewish family in Aleppo, Syria, known for a long tradition of dedication to financing in physical gold, This earned the family the Arab name for the color of the precious metal: Safra. Branches followed in Beirut, followed by Istanbul and Alexandria. In the early 1900s, Beirut was chosen as headquarters of the newly founded Bank Jacob Safra. After World War II, Jacob Safra expanded his new banking activities toward Europe and later to Latin America and the United States.
Today the Swiss arm J. Safra Sarasin is the sixth largest Swiss Bank, represented worldwide in 26 locations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. A separate US entity, Safra National Bank of New York, has branches in and around New York and in Florida, as well as representative offices in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Finally, the group comprises a third bank, Banco Safra S.A.: Brazil’s sixth largest commercial bank.
Today, it is said that the owner of the bank, a member of the founding family, literally lives above the bank’s head office in Geneva.
Hyposwiss is a medium-sized Swiss bank that specialises in independent wealth management and support for professionals. They made our list because they are friendly, easy to deal with, and reasonably flexible when it comes to onboarding international clients. Besides traditional private banking, we have been impressed by their h good knowledge and experience in the field of international trade operations, for clients dealing in shipments of goods within their areas of expertise that include both CIS and Latin America. Overall a good and stable medium-sized bank for more commercial oriented private banking. They also have a participation in an asset management company based in Monaco.
Gonet is another traditional, family office oriented Swiss bank, firmly rooted in the French speaking part of Switzerland, only having expanded into Zurich in 2020. They boast of “openness and especially our pragmatism for challenging preconceptions and trends” – and this pragmatic also translates into a willingness to engage in certain commercial operations for their larger clients. They also have a booking centre in the Bahamas, having stayed there after many foreign banks have exited the Bahamas financial centre.
CIM Bank is a small Swiss bank, with only 3 branches, specializing in private banking for smaller clients. They are the only Swiss bank that has really tried to combine traditional private banking with elements of the fintech or challenger bank model – very successfully over the years. Although they allow opening of accounts starting with as little as CHF5,000, their fees are quite high so it probably becomes worthwhile for those who want a VIP private banking experience and have 6 or low 7 figures to invest. They offer a full range of credit and debit cards and full banking services such as safe deposit boxes and have many staff focusing on the Russian and Latin American markets. They do not accept US citizens.
If you are high net worth without the ‘ultra’ prefix, want what is essentially an online, tech-driven bank, but you still value being able to fly in for meetings in a fancy meeting room, conduct the occasional cash transaction and access your safe deposit box, then CIM Bank is a great solution.
Dukascopy is a 100% online fintech style bank specialising in trading. You can open an account with just USD 100 and they are also crypto friendly. You can send and receive third party wires, although with some restrictions. They offer plastic and virtual credit cards in 4 currencies, and in your account you can manage up to 23 different currencies.
They probably have better and cheaper access to most world markets than the other banks listed on this page, but there is no advisory role and at Dukascopy at the end of the day you are dealing with a call center not a private banker. Also there is no possibility to open international company accounts. Still, for those who want a Swiss quality online bank, this option is hard to beat.
Conclusion: Swiss Banking is Booming This Year!
Don’t let anyone tell you that Switzerland has lost its grip on the world of offshore private banking. Swiss banks are booming this year and continue to innovate and come up with new products for the international, offshore or cross-border market.
Whether you already have a Swiss bank account or you are just looking to open your first Swiss bank account, our Swiss experts are ready to understand your requirements and offer solutions during a video meeting, then proceed to help you with the bank account onboarding. Please email or text us and ask to set up a free consultation with a Swiss banking expert!