Monday, February 09, 2009

The End of the Swiss Offshore Bank ?

Well, UBS is really feeling the heat lately.

I know that not many of you follow this kind of news, and for those of you that do, you're probably thinking "good" -- but the IRS is putting major pressure on UBS, Switzerland's biggest bank to give up information on depositors at the bank who also happen to be US citizens.

For years, Banks in Switzerland have had a certain, "je ne cest quoi" (did i spell that right? :) ) Tons of Hollyweird movies have portrayed them as secretive, mysterious, guarded locations, with security rivalling NORAD....secret pin access codes and anonymous numbered accounts.

It's true, there ARE some Swiss banks that function like this to this day, however, not too many numbered accounts to be had....and the price of entry is 1/2 million and up.

While mystique is a nice selling point, the big draw is the history of neutrality, long record in wealth management, and of course the confidentiality, protected by their bank secrecy act of 1934 -- hey, just in time for the Nazi's -- big coincidence I'm sure :)

Swiss Banking Secrecy

Switzerland has a reputation for banking secrecy that attractrs depositors seeking less regulation. This became a source of good and bad publicity.

While Switzerland became a well regarded offshore financial centre it also garnered a certain amout of infrmacy as a place where grey money was being laundered. As the reputation for the Swiss has grown so has international pressure for greater transparency. (aka, "less secrecy").

While the Swiss opted out of the EU to avoid having to water down its secrecy laws, it is not at all certain that Switzerland will remain forever outside of the Union.

In addition, Switzerland has acceded to the EU Tax Savings Initiative, which has allowed EU tax collectors a 'nose in the tent'.

In the middle of 2004, new anti-money laundering and anti terrorism regs sounded the death knell on the famous swiss numbered account.

The UBS Fiasco

The scandal involving UBS and wealthy private US clients risks hitting a tipping point. After it was "discovered" (duh) by the IRS that UBS was helping US clients to 'evade' taxes, Switzerland has come under huge pressure to start releasing client information on request.

The issue at hand is that these US clients thought they were covered by the Swiss penal code which distinguishes between tax fraud and tax evasion (which is not a criminal offence).

Witht the IRS out for blood the Swiss may have to sacrific confidentiality to continue as a financial centre.

Opening a Swiss Bank Account

Opening a swiss bank account can be somewhat difficult.

For upwards of 500,000USD you can get a private banking account in a swiss offshore bank.

Numbered accounts exist, but will involve showing all your personal documenation, including passport and proof of residence and often a bank reference letter.


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Anonymous said...

Je ne sais quoi - from savoir, to know.

'C'est' means "it is."

fuBarrio said...