The Swiss financial centre has learned from the past
Foreign media are perpetuating a clichéd image of the Swiss financial centre with their “Suisse Secrets” reports, which only mention certain key facts in passing – if at all. In truth, Switzerland rigorously implements international standards and has strict regulations in force to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. Its system of measures to prevent money laundering has been continually expanded and tightened up over recent years in line with the recommendations put forward by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Banks are subject to comprehensive due diligence and reporting requirements to prevent money laundering and financial crime. They have invested very heavily in compliance measures in the past few years and have a wide range of checks and processes in place to ensure that they are adhered to and prevent violations.
Switzerland also measures up to international standards in terms of tax transparency and concludes agreements under the criteria laid down by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on automatic exchange of information (AEOI) with all countries that are interested in doing so and that meet the requirements defined by the OECD. Switzerland’s AEOI network comprises over 100 countries and is being continually enlarged.
Against this backdrop, the Swiss banking industry’s challenges past and present have long been the subject of political debate and state regulation. Like all other countries and markets, Switzerland is always working to create the legal and ethical frameworks for a better future.
Imprecise and one-sided
The “Suisse Secrets” reports are imprecise and one-sided. Without wishing to trivialise the challenges faced by Swiss banking or to deny the media their right to attract attention and make money with emotionally charged reports, I would nevertheless like to offer my own opinion on a number of points.
The reports cover a period stretching back as far as the Second World War, a time of great upheaval affecting all states and markets. How would things have looked if the focus had been placed elsewhere? What has been presented to us is a journey through several decades, during which much should have been done differently – and not just here. Switzerland’s banks most certainly played their part, but so did those in other countries. Looking at it objectively, it is impossible to take the suggestion that all the world’s evils can be laid at the door of Credit Suisse seriously.
There can be no doubt about the need to accept responsibility and come to terms with the past, since this is the only way for us to learn as a community and build a better future. However, responsibility also means meticulously analysing and documenting the complex interactions between political, social and economic factors.
Concocting a headline-grabbing storyline in which Credit Suisse, a minor player (by global standards), empowered the world’s greatest villains makes the bank a scapegoat while simply ignoring the many other forces that were at work. A story like this helps no one. Indeed, might there have perhaps been other companies that wielded the kind of global power to influence history that could never be ascribed to any Swiss bank?
Consider the bigger picture
I would have expected the reports to shed light on all aspects of responsibility. They criticise Switzerland, for instance, because it has not agreed AEOI with any of the “problem states” but magnanimously neglect to mention that our AEOI network is just as extensive as those of Germany, France and the UK – or that the US quite simply ignores AEOI altogether. Why? Could this be a direct assault on the Swiss financial centre? It must be said that the EU tax base is a valuable asset, and Brexit has triggered a battle for parts of London’s financial business in which both Germany and France hope to emerge as winners.
At the same time, the debate over undeclared assets has been reignited. Nation states are understandably unhappy about them because they result in lost tax revenues. However, the problem is certainly not confined to accounts in Switzerland. In fact, it is blatantly offered as a business model in the US.
Open, transparent dialogue
As CEO of the Swiss Bankers Association, I feel motivated to play my part in ensuring that the banking industry deals openly and transparently with its problems, takes responsibility and instigates change. In this respect, I believe it is important for the media to engage in discussion and analysis on this topic, but I would like to distance myself from the sensationalism that serves no purpose other than to bolster media companies’ bottom line and ultimately damage Switzerland’s reputation.
Who knows? Perhaps the media might be able to produce some genuinely thoughtful reporting that is not driven by purely commercial interests. It is essential to acknowledge and discuss problematic issues, but just pointing the finger is not the solution. It never has been.