GENEVA – With their long-cherished secrecy practices increasingly under attack, Swiss banks are scrambling for a new way to attract wealthy foreign clients.
“Banking secrecy is no longer there. That’s gone. It is over,” international wealth management consultant Osmond Plummer told a gathering of Swiss bankers in Geneva last week.
And once the secrecy ends, he stressed, Swiss financial institutions will have to come up with a new magnet if they want to remain attractive for large foreign placements.
“Something has to change in Switzerland,” he told the seminar, focused on wealth management and banking secrecy.
Still reeling from the decision by US authorities to hand a $104 million reward to former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld for blowing the whistle on the Swiss bank and handing over details on thousands of clients in a 2008 tax evasion case, the bankers and wealth managers gathered at the seminar decried their former colleague’s “total lack of morality”.
The United States forced UBS to pay a $780 million fine (591 million euros) based on Birkenfeld’s revelations, and has since launched investigations into 11 other Swiss banks suspected of encouraging their clients to channel undeclared assets into Swiss accounts.
Several Swiss bankers have also been indicted for hiding more than $1 billion in assets.