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Closing the books

Deadline agreed for unclaimed bank assets

By Urs Geiser

The reform is the result of a controversy over Holocaust era assets in Swiss banks (Keystone)

The reform is the result of a controversy over Holocaust era assets in Swiss banks


Parliament has decided to set a deadline for clients to claim dormant assets in Swiss banks, ending years of debate in the wake of an international controversy over accounts of Holocaust victims.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday followed the Senate, giving heirs a total of 62 years to recover dormant assets.

This comprises a 50-year limit before banks can liquidate such accounts and an additional 12-year legal deadline. The unclaimed funds will go to the federal authorities.

Supporters, including the main centre-right and rightwing parties as well as Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, argued that the terms were realistic and Switzerland had tougher rules than most other countries.

They warned of administrative costs of maintaining an account with dormant assets.

Reputation risk

However, the centre-left unsuccessfully wanted to grant heirs up to 112 years to claim the money. They said the reputation of Swiss banks was at stake if dormant accounts could be closed too early.

There is currently an estimated CHF600 million ($636 million) of unclaimed assets in Swiss banks.

Tuesday’s decision is the latest stage in a tug of war over a reform of the banking law.

The cabinet initially proposed a 30-year deadline in its bill to parliament.

In 1999, the cabinet decided to propose a reform of the banking law in a bid to avoid a repeat of a scandal over dormant accounts belonging to Jewish bank clients from the Second World War.

Opposition, particularly from commercial banks, forced the government to review the bill several times over the past decade. and agencies


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