Who can open a Swiss bank account?
In principle, anybody can open an account at a bank in Switzerland. However, banks reserve 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 a “reputation” 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. Swiss banks are forbidden by law to accept money which they know or must assume stem from crime or any illegal activities.
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, irrespective of the domicile of the customer. In line 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 and confirmation of residential address). If the Swiss bank you are interested in has a subsidiary, branch or representative office in your country you may consider contacting this 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. We recommend you to contact our offices to obtain all needed information before you decide to contact the bank directly.
Can I open a Swiss bank account entirely via the Internet?
No, because technical and legal reasons prevent the customer identification procedure from being carried out entirely online via the Internet. At the present time banks in Switzerland must follow the identification procedures laid down for opening an account by correspondence. In accordance with the Due Diligence Agreement (CDB 03), the bank verifies the identity of the contracting partner by obtaining a certified copy of an official identification document (e.g. passport and confirmation of residential address). The certified copy may be provided by a branch, representative office or group company of the bank; by a correspondent bank; by a financial intermediary specifically appointed by the bank; or by a notary public or public office that customarily issues such authentications. The bank also checks the address of the new customer through an exchange of correspondence.
What questions will the bank ask me?
First of all, the bank’s staff will certainly ask questions to fulfill 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 and the nature of your professional business and they will also want to get an idea of your usual financial transactions. In order to offer you the best advice, the bank will also ask about your future plans, for example, whether you intend to buy a house, start a business, retire, etc. If you are asking the bank to manage an investment portfolio they will also ask how much risk you are willing to accept. In short, the more the bank knows about you, the more it can tailor its advice and service to your individual needs.
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 “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.
Is there a minimum opening deposit?
All of the private bankers and other banks offering private banking and wealth management services will a minimum deposit.
Does the account have to be in Swiss francs?
No. Swiss banks offer accounts in US dollars, euros and other currencies besides the Swiss franc.
How much interest will the bank pay on my money?
The amount of interest you receive will depend on market conditions governing interest rates in general and the type of account you have at the bank. Please do not forget that any Swiss-domiciled entity paying interest or dividends is legally obliged to deduct withholding tax at 35%. Swiss taxpayers have the tax credited against their tax bill.
How safe are Swiss banks?
All banks operating in Switzerland must be licensed by the Swiss Federal Banking Commission (SFBC). The SFBC, 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 operational rules. As an additional safety measure, Swiss law demands capital adequacy standards even higher than those required by the Basel Accord. Swiss banks can therefore certainly be counted amongst the safest in the world.
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 vast majority of the Swiss people want to maintain this protection. However, the high level of confidentiality Swiss banks offer, both to 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. Swiss banking secrecy aim is to protect the privacy of the honest bank client while exposing criminals to the full force of the law.