Foreign banks in Switzerland benefit from banking secrecy laws

HSBC is one example of a foreign bank that has chosen to base part of its operations in Switzerland Keystone Archive

The head of the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland, Alfredo Gysi, has defended the country's banking secrecy laws. In a newspaper interview, he said that foreign banks were attracted by the policy of client confidentiality, which had established Switzerland as a major financial centre.

This content was published on June 23, 2001 minutes

"Foreign banks come to Switzerland because the country's banking practices offer them a number of advantages," Gysi said after the annual meeting of the Foreign Banks Association in Bern on Friday.

He said that Switzerland should strive to "staunchly defend" its regulations protecting client privacy and business confidentiality.

Last week, the new British boss of UBS, Luqman Arnold, also backed Swiss banking secrecy laws in an address to the British Swiss Chamber of Commerce.

Arnold, who is the first foreign head of a major Swiss bank, said banking secrecy could not be abused by criminals, provided proper legislation was in place.

Gysi admitted that Switzerland's banking confidentiality rules and efforts to fight money laundering had come under international pressure. However, he said that Switzerland was one of the first countries to tackle fiscal fraud.

"The country's controls against money laundering are an excellent asset in terms of the image and legitimacy of Switzerland as a financial centre, and prove that the systems works," he said.

At the end of 2000, the net profit of foreign banks in Switzerland amounted to 15 per cent of the total Swiss banking system's profits, Gysi noted. "If foreign banks are that important in Switzerland, it's because they are concentrating more of their activities here."

The most recent banking giant to set up shop in Switzerland is Britain's HSBC. The bank announced it was concentrating its private asset management arm here.

Gysi pointed out the important role that foreign banks play in Switzerland, employing 18,500 people. He said the "wave of recent mergers in the Swiss banking sector " had resulted in more people entering the job market, a fact which had worked to foreign banks' advantage.

swissinfo with agencies

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