Pictet & Cie., Switzerland’s largest closely held bank, said it received net inflows from U.S. persons even amid a Department of Justice probe of the Swiss private-banking industry.
“In the last few years it’s been one of the most important growth segments of our wealth-management business,” Jacques de Saussure, Pictet’s senior partner, told reporters in London yesterday. “It had very strong inflows of net new money this year. We’re committed.”
Switzerland built the world’s biggest cross-border wealth center during an era of “black money” that started to crumble when the Justice Department sued Zurich-based UBS AG, the nation’s largest bank, three years ago. The U.S. has used information from whistle-blowers and clients to investigate 11 other firms in the Alpine country, including Credit Suisse Group AG and Julius Baer Group Ltd.
North Americans account for about $55 billion of Switzerland’s $2.1 trillion of assets managed for non-residents, according to an October report by WealthInsight. The nation’s banks and money managers oversee a total $2.8 trillion of private wealth, including for Swiss residents, according to the London-based research company.
Pictet opted to register a Geneva-based company with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2007 to serve American taxpayers based in the U.S. and abroad. The unit oversaw $3.3 billion at the end of 2011, of which $1.9 billion was under discretionary mandates, an SEC filing shows.
Those customers don’t have the protection of Swiss secrecy laws that make it a crime for money managers to disclose the names of clients without their consent. The unit is nonetheless the subject of a Justice Department “general inquiry,” the bank said in a statement on Nov. 25, adding that it plans to cooperate “as fully as possible” with U.S. authorities.
De Saussure declined to answer questions on the U.S. inquiry into Pictet. Charles Miller, a spokesman on tax affairs at the Justice Department, declined to comment by phone yesterday on whether Pictet or any other wealth manager in Switzerland was under investigation.
“There are different banks in different states of examination, and it’s difficult to compare them,” said Mario Tuor, a spokesman for Switzerland’s State Secretariat for International Financial Matters in Bern, without mentioning a specific company.
Pictet North America Advisors SA continues to attract American private clients seeking to invest abroad, said Alexandre Tavazzi, Pictet’s head of advisory.
“U.S. banks tend not to have a very well-diversified portfolio offering,” he said.