, Offshore Banking Consultant for the Q Wealth Report
One recurring question we hear almost every day in the wealth management business is “How Can I Open a Swiss Bank account?” Whilst a minority of those asking the question might really be candidates for Swiss private banking, the majority seem to have watched too many Bond movies! This article is a brief introduction to Swiss banking to help you decide which of these categories you fit into.
First of all let me point out that if you are looking for a secret bank account, there are places that are much more discreet, much more under the radar than Switzerland. You’ll find, for example, nine alternatives to Swiss banks which also have that “private banking feel” listed in the Practical Offshore Banking Guide 2009, which is available free to Q Wealth members. This instantly-downloadable pdf guide also explains the truth behind some of the services associated with Swiss banking like anonymous numbered bank accounts (yes, it is still possible to open numbered bank accounts legally as of 2009! – details in the guide)
But what if you have your heart set on a real Swiss account? Opening a bank account in Switzerland is in theory not too difficult – but like all banks anywhere in the world, Swiss banks do reserve the right to refuse customers. Needless to say the recent hoo-hah from the G20 and the OECD has not made it any easier to open Swiss bank accounts. All banks are scared of being accused of money laundering and this has made it much harder, especially for non Swiss residents, to open bank accounts.
Then, you need to choose a Swiss bank according your requirements. If you want traditional private banking service and a free lunch each time you visit your banker, expect to invest at least a million as your opening deposit. Some of these real Swiss private banks are so discreet they don’t even have signs outside their offices, let alone websites.
You can, however, open accounts at more run-of-the-mill Swiss banks with a very low opening deposit or minimum figure to open accounts. Swiss banks like Migros or Swissquote Bank (which is really more of a discount brokerage, E-Trade style) have no minimum opening deposits whatsoever and you can start the process all by yourself – no need to pay an intermediary. The disadvantage is that, well, there is no particular advantage if you see what I mean… this is not traditional Swiss banking at all! There is nothing private about these banks. Swissquote, for example, will require you to waive bank secrecy before you can even open account!
If you have a Swiss work permit and wish to open a local Swiss bank account, that changes things significantly. In order to pay your salary in, your employer will probably require that you have a bank account. But Swiss working papers make all the difference. Some of the documents you will need, according to expat website AngloInfo, are:
- Passport or identity card
- Recent utility bill (electricity is best)
- Residence permit
- A copy of your work contract
- Cross border workers from France or Germany, a copy of your permis frontalier (cross border work permit)
It is not necessary to make an appointment to open a current account, says Anglo Info. Opening an account can be done in a day and means of payments (like cash cards) will usually arrive within a week to ten days of the account being opened.
In general banks all over Switzerland are open from Monday to Friday from 08:30 to 16:30, and are closed at weekends and on public holidays.
You may, however, not need a Swiss bank account at all. Household bills and invoices are more commonly paid through the post office, with a so-called Bulletin de Versement (bill slip). Bill slips are attached to each bill that you receive by the post.
Below are some links to major Swiss retail banks. Remember these are not the same as Private Banks. If you are a non-resident looking to open a Swiss bank account, you need to be looking at Private Banks since they are the ones that accept non-resident business. To sign up for our free newsletter on Asset Protection and Private Offshore Banking, visit our Q Bytes page.