Senate pushes for bank accounts for Swiss expats

With the passing of the Senate motion, now there is more pressure on Swiss banks to cater to the 775,000 Swiss living abroad. Keystone

Big Swiss banks should make it easier for Swiss people living abroad to maintain a bank account, finds the Senate. 

This content was published on September 19, 2017 - 14:18 and agencies/am/sm/urs

Senators voted 23 to 14 on Tuesday in favour of a motion to make the five largest Swiss banks provide accounts under reasonable conditions. Six senators abstained from the vote, which came during the autumn parliamentary session in Bern. 

Currently, Swiss nationals living abroad are subject to stricter banking rules which came into effect after the financial crisis of 2008. Because of the related paperwork concerning tax compliance, some banks have been charging higher fees, or even dropping clients altogether. 

For example, Franz Boos, a Swiss living in Michigan, suddenly found himself without a bank account, as he explained at the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad's annual congress in August.

The motion for banks to change their ways came from parliamentarian Filippo Lombardi, a member of the centrist Christian Democratic Party and vice president of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA)External link. Lombardi argued that the “too-big-to-fail” banks – which are eligible for federal aid in a crisis – should be obliged to cater to all Swiss clients, regardless of where they live. 

In a media release published on Tuesday, OSA called the Senate vote “a historical step”. 

“Banks are on the hunt for clients around the world, but at the same time, they make life hard for our countrymen abroad. A business model that cuts off Swiss living abroad is discriminatory, discredits the financial centre and hurts Switzerland,” said OSA President Remo Gysin in support of the Senate vote. OSA is calling for a change in Swiss law to ensure that Swiss abroad can bank comfortably.

Like Boos, Monika Tiffany is concerned about the issue. She was in Basel last month for the OSA congress.

Reluctance at home 

Senator Ruedi Noser, a member of the centre-right Radical Party, said that banks should be able to decide what risks they want to take. He argued that if a bank didn’t want to do business in a particular country, it shouldn’t be forced to cater to a Swiss person living there. He also pointed out that Swiss living in Switzerland don’t have “the right to a bank account” – so that enforcing such a right for those abroad would be discriminatory against Swiss at home. 

The government is also against the motion. Finance Minister Ueli Maurer has acknowledged the problem, but points out that it doesn’t affect all 775,000 Swiss living abroad. He also cited the potential for finding a solution with PostFinance. 

Last week, the House of Representatives voted 178 to four, (with seven abstentions), in favour of a motion calling for PostFinance to update its service policy to allow Swiss abroad to make payments.

Both motions still need approval by the Senate and the House respectively before they are binding for the government to present legal amendments to be discussed in parliament at a later stage. 

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