Switzerland pays the price for banking secrecy

Attacks from European governments, investigations against Swiss banks in the United States and international arrest warrants against bankers – in the space of just a few years, banking secrecy has turned into a costly burden.

Will the Swiss banking industry be able to survive the death of banking secrecy?

“Today I met several bankers in Zurich. They were all shaking their heads saying, ‘In 40 years of operations we’ve never had a crisis like this one – a war like the one being waged against the Swiss banking system. We’re in the artillery sights of every country and every day there are new attacks’,” recounted Paolo Bernasconi, a business law professor at St Gallen University and former Ticino public prosecutor.

“Many bank directors are unable to leave Switzerland because they risk being arrested.”

The storm sweeping through the Swiss banking sector can also have terrible consequences for those not directly involved. In August, the two teenage sons of a Geneva banker who flew to the US on holiday were detained by customs officials on arrival and grilled about their father’s activities.

Rapid change

This is not the first time that banking secrecy has been targeted by other countries, but until a few years ago they were isolated attacks rather than orchestrated campaigns launched by the world’s leading economic powers.

Swiss banks, as well as many tax havens, had always been able to place part of their activities in a grey zone, which is seen by most governments to be black. Eleven Swiss banks are under investigation by US authorities looking into allegations the banks helped Americans evade taxes.


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