Switzerland’s appeal is no secret among high net worth individuals. While there’s no one recipe for wealth management on Swiss soil, good advice is a key ingredient.
That’s the thinking behind Wealth Planning for Mobile Families, a three-day conference held in Lucerne this week.
It’s being run by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), which has 85 branches worldwide – including five in Switzerland.
According to organisers, Switzerland has become a destination of choice for mobile families.
“It’s a good place to live – very convenient – and taxation is moderate by European standards,” Stuart Clements, STEP’s secretary for German-speaking Switzerland, explained to swissinfo.ch.
“Things work, trains run on time and it’s outward-looking; it’s a live-and-let-live society.” Born in Britain, Clements has lived in Switzerland for 40 years.
The three-day conference allows participants the chance to network and gain some insight into how things work in Switzerland.
On day one, they got an overview of the conditions and procedures for moving to the country, including permit policies and estate planning. Speakers also discussed the tax situation in detail.
“Interesting tax planning opportunities are offered by the unique preferential lump-sum tax regime available to foreign citizens who are not gainfully occupied,” said conference speaker Peter Krummenacher of Henley & Partners in Zurich.
“This makes Switzerland even more attractive as a place of residence for wealthy individuals and families.”
The cantons of central Switzerland teamed up to support this year’s conference, highlighting the charms of each in a panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon.
Yet not all the talk about a potential move to Switzerland was positive.
“One important aspect where Switzerland is not attractive is getting citizenship. In that respect, Switzerland is perhaps one of the worst countries,” said Krummenacher, lamenting the amount of time it takes for foreigners to get a Swiss passport.
The second day of the conference was devoted to case studies looking into what happens when families move to Switzerland. The sample families come from Britain, Germany, India, Russia, the Middle East and Latin America.
On the third and final day, the conference was delving deeper, looking into issues that may arise from conflicting legal situations.
Those attending the conference seemed to appreciate the wealth of information and networking opportunities.
“I deal with a lot of very mobile clients who have international wealth planning issues. I think it’s a good chance to meet other people who are dealing with these issues,” Véronique Simonin, an employee of SwissLife insurance, told swissinfo.ch.
She was there to get tips for her company’s clients, and hoped to find out more about Swiss tax advantages and also about the difficulties for families moving from countries with different legal systems.
Patrik Wermelinger represented Business Development Lucerne at the conference. Though it’s clear which city he would recommend, Wermelinger had a general tip for anybody thinking of moving to Switzerland, as he told swissinfo.ch.
“I think it’s important to collect information about the location and then to personally be present to feel the atmosphere in the area – and also to see what’s possible for the children here and what’s available on the real estate market.”
Susan Vogel-Misicka in Lucerne, swissinfo.ch
STEP is a professional association for people working in the fields of wealth management and planning for the succession of wealth over the generations.
Founded in Britain in 1991, STEP has more than 11,000 members and 4,000 students in nearly 70 countries.
In Switzerland and Liechtenstein there are 2,000 members and students.
Switzerland has been under continuous attack over the past year for helping foreign tax evaders hide their assets.
The OECD placed Switzerland on a “grey list” of uncooperative tax havens in April last year. The Swiss were removed in September after renegotiating more than a dozen double taxation treaties, but they have refused to automatically transfer information to tax investigators without proof of crimes.
Several countries, including Italy, France, Britain and the US, launched tax amnesties last year in an effort to repatriate assets from tax cheats. These are forecast to damage the Swiss offshore banking industry.
The most damaging tax evasion case involved the activities of UBS bank in the US.
A year ago, UBS was fined $780 million after admitting helping US citizens to dodge taxes. It also handed over data of 285 account holders.
In September, the Swiss government agreed to transfer the details of 4,450 UBS clients to the US – in effect violating Swiss banking secrecy to prevent a ruinous court case for UBS.
Also last year a former employee of HSBC private bank in Geneva ran away with sensitive client data that he handed over to the French authorities.
And in January an unnamed informant offered to sell the German authorities the data of about 1,500 possible tax evaders with bank accounts in Switzerland.