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Geneva's Banks Push Clients to Come Clean

A French crackdown on tax evasion puts Swiss institutions on the spot
GenevaPhotograph by Valentin Flauraud/Bloomberg

For more than a century, Geneva has provided wealthy French families a convenient and safe place to stash their money. Switzerland’s political neutrality, stability, and tradition of bank secrecy have kept their fortunes beyond the reach of warring powers and the most determined tax collectors, even though Geneva is less than 3 miles from the French border. In turn, French funds have helped build the city into a showpiece for Gallic culture—and the world’s largest concentration of wealth managers.

Those long-standing ties are unraveling as France toughens its tax laws and Paris prosecutors investigate UBS, Switzerland’s largest lender, and HSBC Holdings to find out whether they helped clients hide wealth in Swiss accounts. Already bruised by battles with the U.S., Geneva bankers are pressing French customers to “regularize,” a polite way of saying they must declare hidden funds to French tax authorities. Failure to do so will result in the closing of their accounts, clients have been told.