Swiss banking secrecy still holds, says president Merz
Swiss banking secrecy is still the rule despite international pressure for greater transparency, Switzerland's President and Finance Minister Hans-Rodolf Merz said on Thursday in an interview.
"As far as banking secrecy itself, nothing has changed compared with the past, nothing will be eased," Merz told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. "There will just be closer international collaboration," he added.
Switzerland was included by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a "grey list" of countries deemed to be uncooperative on tax havens earlier this year.
Also under pressure from the G20 group of advanced and emerging economies, Berne now expects to ratify tax agreements this year to conform with OECD standards on information exchange, a move that would see it taken off the list.
A total of 23 countries have said they would renegotiate accords on double tax imposition with the Swiss Confederation.
To date, six countries have done so -- Denmark, France, Mexico, Norway, the United States and a nation that was not identified by Swiss authorities.
The influential Swiss Bankers Association said on Monday it had named private banker Patrick Odier as chairman. He was quoted as saying that "protecting financial privacy in terms of data protection for all bank clients will remain an important responsibility for us as Swiss bankers in future."
Switzerland has traditionally boasted of its bank secrecy rules but the worst global slump since the 1930s sparked by a financial sector collapse has put a fresh focus on the need to mitigate risk through greater transparency.
Merz told the FAZ that he had the best interests of Swiss companies in mind.
"We have not bowed (to international pressure). But had we dug in, sanctions against Switzerland would have followed. That would have affected jobs first and foremost," he explained. "Major Swiss industrialists called me to stress their desire that we abandon our resistance to application of the OECD rules.
"They were justifiably worried about Switzerland's ability to compete" in international markets, Merz said.
The Swiss president also voiced concern that other European financial centres could take advantage of his country's decison to come into line with OECD regulations.
"Following discussion in Singapore, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, I have the feeling that these countries also want to adhere to the OECD rules," he said.
"But we know a few small islands that covet the lucrative business they are going to be able to do," Merz added.