Ease of opening a bank account has become a major selling point in the Swiss retail banking sector, which is good news for prospective customers.
The starting point for a new client is establishing identity. Swiss banks are obliged to verify identity by requesting state-issued identification. Foreign nationals who are resident in Switzerland also need to show their permit and proof of employment where relevant.
Traditionally these documents had to be shown in person in a bank branch, but the regulations changed in 2016 to allow personal identification by video service. And many banks now offer online or app-based account opening services where contracts can be signed digitally using a certificate.
Where should you start? With many different providers competing in the sector, it pays to shop around for a current account; the bank and insurance comparison service, moneyland.chexternal link, is a good place to begin.
Some banks are more restrictive than others when it comes to accepting foreign customers without a B or a C permit. In some places, F (provisionally admitted), N (asylum seeker), and S (in need of protection) permit holders will be turned away.
However, PostFinanceexternal link, the bank of the Swiss postal service, has a public service mandate to provide banking services to all residents, regardless of the length of their stay.
PostFinance will even consider, on a case-by-case basis, clients who are unable to provide official state identification; along with the Basler Kantonalbank, Credit Suisse, and Bank Cler (formerly Bank Coop), it will also open accounts for refugees and asylum seekers.
Switzerland’s big two banks, Credit Suisseexternal link and UBSexternal link, have the most extensive customer service in English, if that’s an important consideration. If not, there is a host of cantonal banks with good services, and the popular Raiffeisen Bank, Migros Bank and Bank Cler (formerly Bank Coop) have a national presence.
For non-residents seeking to open an account in Switzerland, identity verification can be done by post with certified copies. Minimum deposit amounts apply.
Opening a Swiss bank account has become especially problematic for American citizens living in Switzerland after the US Department of Justice fined numerous Swiss banks over tax evasion issues in recent years. Several Swiss banks now have provisions in place to allow American residents of Switzerland to open accounts, though additional paperwork may be required.