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Slow progress Bankers bemoan continued EU access impasse

Swiss banking has changed a lot since Odier took over as SBA chairman


Outgoing Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) chairman Patrick Odier marked his last day in office by taking a swipe at politicians who have so far failed to secure the future of the Swiss financial sector in the European Union market.

Odier blamed the ongoing impasse on a trend of Swiss banking jobs leaving Switzerland for other countries. Nearly 3,500 banking jobs have been lost in Switzerland so far this year, while Swiss banks increased their numbers of staff in overseas branches by 6,700.

“The negative effects of the lack of access to the European market are beginning to become more and more palpable. This is an alarming situation,” Odier told journalists, hours before he was due to hand over the baton to new chairman Herbert Scheidt.

SBA chief executive Claude-Alain Margelisch rammed home the message during the industry lobby group’s annual conference on Thursday. Margelisch vented his frustration that parliament has delayed debating one of two legislative packages that would harmonise Swiss rules with the EU – a prerequisite for Swiss banks continuing to do business in the single market.

“The procrastination has to stop,” he said. “The Swiss financial centre and the entire Swiss economy need [these legislative changes] and they need them together, as a package. Now. Not in a few years from now.”

Fast-paced change

Switzerland’s ongoing row with the EU over restricting the flow of foreign workers has also hampered the process of re-gearing the Swiss financial centre to meet new EU regulatory demands. Odier said it was “regrettable” that soured Swiss-EU relations have precluded the possibility of negotiating a financial services agreement between the two sides.

Reflecting on his seven years in office, Odier mused that the Swiss financial centre has undergone greater changes in that period than in the preceding century. He was referring mainly to the destruction of Swiss banking secrecy, which will soon be replaced by an automatic exchange of tax information between countries.

The SBA was initially opposed to such a system, which would force banks to act as tax collectors for other countries. But the lobby group changed its tune when international pressure threatened the very existence of some Swiss banks.

The SBA is currently resisting people’s initiatives that threaten to impose more changes. One proposes to prevent banks from issuing credit out of thin air by limiting loans to the volume of Swiss francs already in circulation.

Another initiative aims to enshrine domestic banking secrecy for Swiss residents in the country’s constitution.

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