Saving in Switzerland: how many funds you need?

Many people around the world would normally open a bank account at one of their countries’ local banks, where the familiarity bias comes often to the forefront. The opening of a new bank account as a youngster can often be the same as a father that makes or breaks his sons’ choice regarding picking a beer brand in the grocery store.

One can only dream about opening a bank account in Switzerland, as having a bank account at one of the Swiss banks is considered to be for the elite people at the top layer of society. Is this prejudice still the correct one in people’s mind?

This article describes the advantages and disadvantages of having a bank account in Switzerland and what amount is needed to open one.

Opening a Swiss bank account

The process of opening a bank account in Switzerland is not as different compared to the process of one of the local banks in Europe. Application forms have to be filled in and the bank needs to know exactly what person they are dealing with and what kind of job the person has.

Nevertheless, Swiss banks put more emphasis on the privacy factor that is surrounding the application process of a bank account. Swiss banks strictly ask you to provide them with your official passport, as a drivers’ license or equivalent governmental document is not sufficient. Moreover, the official passport has to indicate that the applicant is at least 18 years or older.

Furthermore, Swiss banks also require a minimum balance, whereas local banks do not have such standards under private circumstances. Depending on the account you wish to open, minimum balance requirements vary between a couple of thousand dollars to millions of dollars. The minimum balance levels are usually coupled with the extensiveness of the investment services related to the bank account.

As soon as you open a bank account, you benefit from the considerably low financial risks that are coupled with the account in Switzerland. Furthermore, nationally it is not known what the exact amount is that is recorded on a Swiss bank account, as privacy rules are considered severe. The privacy law in Switzerland does not allow banks to disclose and share personal information about any clients or regarding the clients’ account to other surrounding countries that request such information. This privacy law already dates back to 1934 when the Swiss Banking Law was implemented. In the end, this results in other authorities not even knowing about the existence of bank accounts maintained in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception regarding this Swiss privacy law. If and only if a governmental institution claims, which means there is sufficient evidence, that a holder of a bank account is involved in certain criminal activities, financial problems or any related issue, then the information is revealed. Moreover, during the last couple of years, a considerable amount of agreements have been signed between Switzerland and the USA, Germany and the UK regarding transparency in order to trace tax evasion behavior by individuals and corporations.

On the other side of the coin, Swiss banks require the depositor to be transparent about the underlying reason how the funds are obtained, which is also stated in the Swiss anti money laundering regulation. Eventually, this means you have to share certified documents, like a copy of your passport, tax returns, salary slips, company documents and other proof where the funds are coming from, such as a sales contract or any other related evidence. Once all that information is obtained, a Swiss bank also wants to have information regarding what the applicant is going to do as soon as the funds are stored on the bank account.

Moreover, there is Swiss regulation in place for banks that require that these financial institutions have high capital maintenance levels. This means that depositors have a considerably higher protection compared to other countries in Europe.

Conclusion

All in all, opening a bank account in Switzerland is a process that takes a considerable amount of extra time if you compare it with opening a bank account in another European country. This is especially due to the fact that Swiss banks want more information about the applicant before opening a bank account and during the maintenance of a bank account.

That being said, the Swiss privacy law, which dates back to 1934, is the main reason why foreign people store funds on Swiss bank accounts. Furthermore, Swiss banks are considered to be the most safe banks on the globe.

Nevertheless, apart from Swiss citizens, rich foreign people are usually the ones that transfer their money to Swiss bank accounts for privacy, protection and tax evasion reasons. During the last couple of years Switzerland signed several agreements with the USA, Germany and the UK on the transparency of client information regarding tax planning behavior and money laundering practices. Is it possible that Switzerland will not be the number one privacy country when it comes to storing money? This is an unanswered question that will be answered during the coming years.

Rutger Bloemenkamp

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