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Post Office bank enters brave new world

PostFinance is now an independent bank - with strings Keystone

The banking arm of the Swiss Post Office, PostFinance, started trading as an independent operation on Tuesday albeit with restrictions that prevent it from offering its own mortgage and business loans directly to customers.

The legal conversion of PostFinance into a public limited company has partially met its desires to operate on an equal footing with commercial banks following lengthy political debate over many years.

Parliament approved the plan to grant PostFinance independent status earlier this month. However, the company remains under the control of the state-owned Swiss Post that will, for the foreseeable future, hold all PostFinance shares.

Under the conditions of its banking licence, issued by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma), PostFinance must continue to sell mortgage and business loans through the Munich Hypothekenbank and Valiant Bank.

This condition assauged competition concerns from commercial banks of a rival operating on a level footing with explicit state guarantees.

PostFinance has also boosted its own equity to CHF4.7 billion ($5 billion) to meet regulatory requirements on capital reserves. Its banking operations will now be supervised by Finma, the Swiss financial regulator.

At the end of 2012 PostFinance managed CHF103.8 billion of customer assets and boosted its profits last year by 6.8 per cent to CHF631 million. The bank has proved particularly popular with clients seeking a safe haven for assets since the financial crisis.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR