Financial centre participants
The financial centre is more than just the sum total of the banks in Switzerland. This page contains information on the key players that shape it.
Among the many qualities of the banking sector in Switzerland are diversity and heterogeneity. Over the years, a wide range of banking groups have developed, some of which have become specialised.
The big banks essentially offer every type of transaction, particularly investment banking (capital market transactions, securities trading, money market transactions, financial engineering, securities underwriting as well as consulting on and conducting mergers and acquisitions). They share a strong international focus and extensive interconnections. The two big banks are UBS and Credit Suisse, both of which have branches and subsidiaries in more than 50 countries and are present in all major financial centres around the world.
Most cantonal banks operate in all fields of business, although they are particularly strong in the savings and mortgage segments. In a few cases, asset management for domestic customers also plays an important role. Cantonal banks’ operations are largely focused on their own canton. The majority are institutions under public law with their own legal personality. There are also some semi-private and private joint-stock companies. The Association of Swiss Cantonal Banks was founded in 1907. It acts for the category as a whole and promotes cooperation between its members.
Many foreign-controlled banks operate in all fields of business, but some focus on asset management – mainly for foreign customers – or investment banking. A few are also active in trade finance. Since 1972, all foreign-controlled banks and branches of foreign banks have belonged to the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland (AFBS).
The Raiffeisen banks are the only group of banks structured as a cooperative, under the official name of Raiffeisen Switzerland. At the beginning of 2021, the Raiffeisen Group consisted of more than 220 independent, locally rooted cooperative banks with a history stretching back more than a century. The Raiffeisen banks focus mostly on traditional interest rate business involving mortgages and corporate loans, and customer savings and deposits. Although most of the business done by individual banks is regional, the Group operates throughout the country. Within it, the Raiffeisen Switzerland Cooperative is responsible for operations and strategy and is the body bearing ultimate liability.
Stock exchange banks operate mainly in the field of wealth management, serving clients both inside and outside Switzerland. Since 1981, their interests have been represented by the Association of Swiss Asset and Wealth Management Banks.
The banks in this category focus mostly on traditional interest rate business involving mortgages and corporate loans, and customer savings and deposits. Their business is therefore very similar to that of the smaller cantonal banks, though their geographical coverage is generally narrower. Their advantage is customer proximity: they are familiar with local circumstances and regional business cycles. Most regional and savings banks have preserved their local character and, to this day, are still often organised either as cooperatives or as joint-stock companies, with many of the latter owned by their customers or the local population. Most are members of the Association of Swiss Regional Banks.
Most private bankers work in the field of wealth management and are sole proprietorships, general or limited partnerships serving both domestic and foreign clients. Since 1934, they have come together in the Swiss Private Bankers Association, whose main function is to preserve and safeguard their professional interests, and which is open only to private bankers. At the beginning of 2014, the Association of Swiss Private Banks was founded. It represents the interests of privately owned Swiss banks specialising in asset management, and came into being when four private bankers converted to joint-stock companies on 1 January 2014 and were consequently reclassified as stock exchange banks.
This category includes all banks that do not come under another heading. Consequently, they have no significant features in common.
Financial centre infrastructure
SIX operates Switzerland’s financial market infrastructure and offers comprehensive, global securities trading, clearing and settlement services, as well as financial information and payment transactions. The company is owned by its users: approximately 140 banks of widely varying orientations and sizes.
The Banking Ombudsman deals with specific complaints from customers about banks based in Switzerland. It is an independent and neutral institution, and enquiries are treated in confidence. The arbitration process is free of charge for the customer. The Ombudsman commenced operations in April 1993, and now handles some 2,000 enquiries a year.
The Banking Ombudsman also runs a Central Claims Office for anyone searching for assets without contact and dormant assets (dormant accounts).
The Banking Act stipulates that all Swiss branches of banks and securities dealers must have their preferential deposits protected by esisuisse. If a bank or securities dealer in Switzerland becomes insolvent, the other members of esisuisse will immediately provide the required funds. This collective scheme ensures that the customers of an insolvent bank have their protected deposits paid out to them within one month, up to a maximum of CHF 100,000 per depositor. The banks receive reimbursement of their contributions at a later date when the insolvent bank is liquidated.
FINMA is Switzerland’s independent financial market regulator. Its mandate is to supervise banks, insurance companies, exchanges, securities dealers, collective investment schemes, and their asset managers and fund management companies. It also regulates distributors and insurance intermediaries. FINMA is charged with protecting creditors, investors and policyholders, and is responsible for ensuring that Switzerland’s financial markets function effectively. FINMA commenced its activities on 1 January 2009. The institutional, functional and financial independence FINMA enjoys enables it to exercise effective supervision over Switzerland’s financial industry.
The Swiss National Bank conducts the country’s monetary policy as an independent central bank. It is obliged by the Constitution and by statute to act in accordance with the interests of the country as a whole. Its primary goal is to ensure price stability, while taking due account of economic developments. In so doing, it creates an appropriate environment for economic growth.
- Asset Management Association Switzerland (AMA)
- Challenge Your Potential (CYP)
- Konferenz der Geschäftsführer der Anlagestiftungen (KGAST)
- Swiss Commission for Financial Standardisation (SCFS)
- Swiss Insurance Association
- State Secretariat for International Finance
- Swiss Finance Institute (SFI)
- Swiss Sustainable Finance (SSF)