While Switzerland maintains a strong manufacturing base, today around 70% of the active population works in service industries.
Switzerland was an agricultural country that diversified into industry because of a tradition of craftsmanship. Meanwhile, the industrial economy has turned into a knowledge economy. This has given the service sector a new importance, with banking, insurance and tourism leading the way.
Tourism is an important provider of jobs in every part of Switzerland. It provides a livelihood for locals in places where there is not much in the way of industry, and it employs a lot of seasonal workers from outside.
The Swiss support the tourist and hospitality industry themselves. They are great frequenters of cafés and restaurants, and they go skiing in family groups all through the winter season in the Alps. Switzerland Tourism is charged with promoting the country's attractiveness for leisure activities.
The banking sector is also a significant pillar of the service sector. Geneva and Zurich in particular have a long tradition of banking and investment activity.
Asset and wealth management in all their forms are the cornerstone of Swiss banking. That goes not only for the largest banks – Credit Suisse and UBS – but also for a wide variety of other smaller banks specialising in private banking.
Swiss banks have some of the strictest "know your customer" rules in the world. They must verify the identity of anyone – Swiss or foreign – opening an account and they must also establish the identity of the beneficial owner of the assets.
Nevertheless, Switzerland's tradition of banking secrecy underwent a significant change in March 2009 when the government announced that Switzerland would drop its long-standing reservation to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Model Tax Convention, in particular Article 26 governing the exchange of information in tax matters.
This means that Switzerland will extend international administrative assistance to cover all tax offences, including tax evasion, and not just cases of criminal tax fraud as had been the case.
Visit the finance ministry for more information on financial policies and banking secrecy.
Insurance is another important part of the service economy. Swiss insurance companies have worldwide activities and in specific sectors, such as reinsurance, are leaders in their field. Switzerland was a pioneer in this industry. The Swiss themselves are more heavily insured than any other nation.
Most Swiss insurers – Axa Winterthur, Zurich Insurance, Vaudoise, etc. – carry the name of the city or canton in which they were founded. Most Swiss insurers offer life and other policies, but others are specialised in the reinsurance field, that is, they insure risks held by other insurance companies.
Added to this there are many services clustered around industry and commerce that provide employment for people, especially in the urban areas.