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After Falciani

Geneva: doing business post-banking secrecy

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Whistle-blowers like Hervé Falciani have helped relegate banking secrecy to the history books. What consequences has this paradigm shift had on the financial centre of Geneva? (SRF/swissinfo.ch)

Falciani will be tried in his absence on Monday in the Swiss Criminal Court on charges stemming from stealing client data from his former employer, the Geneva branch of HSBC. It was a turning point for HSBC and other Geneva banks when the public became aware of the case in 2009 and the scale of tax evasion it revealed.

The “fine art of Swiss banking” could be said to have been invented in Geneva. In 1387, the Church granted the people of Geneva the right to lend money at interest, a privilege that at the time was unique in Christendom. Thrift, diligence and sincerity were the characteristics of the private bankers in the 16th century. They were known for being discreet therefore Geneva became a favourite destination for the wealthy and powerful who wanted to keep their assets out of reach of the taxman.

Today Geneva is one of the top ten financial centres in the world. The city is especially important in regard to private asset management and commodity trading.