SNB Takes On Protesters, Croissant Critics at Annual Meeting

  • Supporters of sovereign money passed out flyers before AGM
  • Peace group wants SNB to stop buying defense company shares

The Swiss National Bank just can’t make everybody happy.

At its annual shareholder meeting on Friday, it faced criticism about investments in certain companies, its part in the global financial system and even the food on offer for attendees.

It wasn’t just within the hall in Bern that the SNB found itself in the spotlight. The meeting was also used as a focal point by a group who want to change the nature of the banking system itself and staged a protest in the center of the city.

Protestors stage a puppet show on April 28.

Photographer: Michele Limina/Bloomberg

At the event against fractional-reserve banking, Switzerland was represented as a puppet of banks, with one person dressed as SNB President Thomas Jordan cutting the strings controlling the puppet.

The initiative would “free Switzerland from dependency of large banks, and therefore the Swiss National Bank should examine” it in detail,” supporters said in a statement.

The Vollgeld -- or “whole money” in German -- measure seeks to put the central bank solely in charge of money supply and forbid commercial banks from granting loans that aren’t fully backed by deposits, effectively ending the way banking has been conducted for centuries. Proponents also argue it would prevent financial market bubbles.

The SNB and the government both oppose the measure.

“The system that we have works pretty well,” Jordan said. We don’t want an “experiment that we don’t know what the end result will be,” he said.

Investment Policy

Another popular initiative wants to restrict the SNB’s investments in weapons manufacturers, and a proponent addressed the meeting. Others also raised questions about its investments, which the SNB already limits on ethical grounds.

“We need to be careful that we don’t just go beyond these criteria to have certain preferences determining the entirety of the central bank’s investment policy,” Jordan said.

At times, speeches were met with applause and Vollgeld advocate Martin Alder was rewarded with calls of “bravo” from the crowd. SNB Bank Council President Jean Studer sought to enforce the allotted speaking times, but the event still ran for more than three hours.

The criticism didn’t stop with policy. There was also the investor who was concerned about the accuracy of his electronic voting device and also faulted officials for having too few croissants for the number of shareholders present.

Nevertheless, shareholders discharged the supervisory board for 2016 and approved the financial report for that year by a comfortable margin.

“Thank you very much for the many important questions,” Jordan said. “The shareholders are the guardians of the independence of the central bank.”

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