Switzerland

After Legal Assault on Secrecy, Private Banks Flee Switzerland

Way to kill an industry

|

For European lenders with private-banking aspirations, a presence in Switzerland used to be a must. Now, with bank secrecy eroding and rising compliance costs chipping away at profits, more are saying adieu.

The number of foreign-owned Swiss banks fell to 129 by the end of May from 145 at the start of 2012, according to data from the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland. Assets under management slid by a quarter to 870.7 billion Swiss francs ($921 billion) in the five years through 2012 as clients withdrew money or paid taxes on undeclared accounts, the data show.

A crackdown on bank secrecy and increased regulatory scrutiny may unlock a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the next 12 to 18 months, according to bankers, consultants and analysts interviewed by Bloomberg News. While Switzerland remains the biggest center for global offshore wealth with $2.2 trillion, or about 26 percent of the market, according to Boston Consulting Group, departures may further chip away at the Alpine republic's status.