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Swiss Banks May Struggle for Staff After Immigration Vote

A popular vote that may force Switzerland’s government to enact limits on foreign workers would weaken the pool of talent for Swiss financial-services companies, according to a bank lobby group.

“The result of the vote is regrettable,” the Basel, Switzerland-based Swiss Bankers Association said in an e-mailed statement today. “The SBA fears that the available pool of trained staff will decrease now.”

Almost 12 years after opening borders to European Union expatriates, Swiss citizens recoiled, backing an initiative to impose limits on immigration. The measure, which doesn’t specify how high those quotas should be, passed by fewer than 20,000 ballots in a national vote yesterday. The government has three years to impose new rules, which will primarily affect workers from the EU.

About one quarter of bank employees in Switzerland are from the EU, according to the SBA, which counts firms such as UBS AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and Julius Baer Group Ltd., the country’s top three wealth managers, among its 333 members. About 20 percent of Swiss residents are foreigners.

“We do need to hire talented individuals,” Credit Suisse Chief Executive Officer Brady Dougan told reporters on Feb. 6. “Having access to talent is something that’s important for all the businesses here.”

The vote comes as the SBA lobbies against EU proposals to ban Swiss banks from marketing wealth-management services directly to residents of the union from Switzerland. Such a measure would oblige Swiss banks to relocate thousands of jobs to new branches or subsidiaries in EU countries, the SBA has said.

Access to markets in the 28-member bloc is “vitally important,” Nicolas Pictet, vice-president of the Geneva-based Association of Swiss Private Banks and a managing partner at Pictet & Cie. Group SCA, Switzerland’s largest closely held bank, said on Jan. 16.

“It is very important that the phase of political uncertainty remains short, in order to avoid long-lasting negative effects,” the SBA said today.

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