Banking services

For some years now, access to Swiss banking services from abroad has been subject to increasing restrictions. This is due to legal provisions in countries wishing to restrict the market access of foreign financial service providers. International sanctions against certain countries (see Seco’s list of countries) are also preventing the provision of financial services from Switzerland, including online banking, for example.

Swiss supervisory legislation based on international standards also requires Swiss banks to take account of country-specific risks with regard to money laundering or corruption tendencies for every customer relationship, which is resulting in the application of more rigorous due diligence and can mean tight restrictions for customers domiciled there. Finally, in view of the rising compliance costs due to the high level of regulation, Swiss banks have decided to focus their services on those markets where the customer base is still deemed financially viable. Some banks provide services for the Swiss abroad regardless of the demand in the individual countries in compliance with the specific regulatory requirements. Other banks concentrate on the domestic market.

 

The OSA has been endeavouring to improve this situation for a number of years, for example, through various procedural requests at the National Council and Council of States, through direct dialogue with banks and contact with industry associations and federal authorities.

 

The positive upshot of these efforts is that Swiss abroad in many countries of domicile can enter into a banking relationship with a number of Swiss banks.

 

The following points should be noted:

 

  • Discussions with the bank should be held as early as possible – i.e. before moving abroad – as the range of products and services available can differ depending on the future country of domicile and may be more restricted than in Switzerland. Some banks also treat existing customers who move abroad differently to new customers who want to open a bank account after relocating to a foreign country.
     
  • While residing abroad it can be advantageous to separate payments from Swiss sources (e.g. old-age and survivors’ insurance, pension and insurance payments, rental income etc.) from income generated abroad. Both Swiss and foreign banks should be notified of any international relocation while residing abroad (for example, from France to Canada).
     
  • When returning to Switzerland from abroad it is advisable to involve the bank as soon as possible – for example, to allow proof of origin of assets acquired abroad or tax documents to be obtained if required – so that the banking relationship is in line with the change of circumstances again.

 

Customers unable to find a satisfactory solution despite complaining to their bank can contact the Swiss banking ombudsman (www.bankingombudsman.ch). No charges are incurred for bank customers during arbitration procedures. This independent institution is available to all banking customers, including the Swiss abroad.

 

The most appropriate solution in the individual case depends on the particular circumstances and other variable factors so it is advisable to enquire with several banks about the specific requirements to find out about the services available and charges in order to make a decision.

 

Banks that provide bank accounts for the Swiss abroad as well as their contact details and terms and conditions are listed at the following links: