Swiss Banker Odier Urges Better Access to European Market

Switzerland should strike accords with European governments to secure better access for the country’s asset and wealth managers to clients in their major markets, according to the Swiss Bankers Association.

New bilateral arrangements for the export of financial services to Germany, France, Italy and Spain are essential, after a Swiss vote in February to cap immigration “complicated” relations between Switzerland and the European Union, Patrick Odier, president of the Basel-based lobby group, told reporters today in Zurich. Odier is senior partner at Cie. Lombard, Odier, SCA, the oldest and second-biggest bank in Geneva.

“It is now clear that there will not be an agreement on services” with the whole of the 28-member bloc, Odier said. “It’s imperative for our political authorities to negotiate intergovernmental agreements with individual countries in the EU.”

Almost 12 years after Switzerland opened its borders to EU expatriates, its citizens reversed course on Feb. 9, endorsing limits on immigration that contravene its treaty with the EU. The Swiss vote damaged relations with the EU, undermining negotiations in other areas, including on separate EU proposals to ban Swiss banks from marketing their services directly to residents of the union.

Some EU countries only allow Swiss banks to solicit customers through offices in that country or elsewhere in the bloc. France, for example, bans the cross-border marketing of wealth management services. Most Swiss banks don’t have licensed subsidiaries, a costly proposition that only bigger companies such as UBS AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and Julius Baer Group Ltd. can easily afford.

The ability to market services from head offices in places like Zurich, Geneva and Basel is becoming more important to Switzerland’s financial industry. Swiss banks are facing competition from London, Luxembourg, Miami, Hong Kong and Singapore to be the offshore booking center of choice for affluent individuals and families. In another area where they are losing their edge, the country is relaxing its rules on banking secrecy to share information with tax authorities around the world.

Banks in Switzerland lost 350 billion Swiss francs ($375 billion) from foreign clients over the past six years amid an international crackdown on offshore tax evasion, according to an Aug. 27 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers AG. European clients account for 35 to 40 percent of the more than 2 trillion francs of assets under management in Switzerland that belong to foreigners, according to the SBA.

Failure to resolve the situation may result in the Swiss financial industry being “marginalized or even excluded from its most important market,” Odier said.

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