Banking System

The banking system is characterised by strict regulations. All banks and bank-type finance companies must be registered with the Federal Banking Commission, which, together with the Swiss National Bank, exercises a relatively tight control over their functioning. The Federal Banking Commission also controls Switzerland’s international bank note trading business. As a result, all banks wanting to conduct banknote business have to obtain clearance from the commission. In a recent push towards liberalisation of the financial markets, certain provisions for banking and financial services were changed. Banking fees were liberalised, including the freeing of brokerage fees from the cartel. The banking sector provides over a third of the tax revenue from all companies and approximately a fifth of the taxes paid by companies and individuals combined.
Banking in Switzerland is extremely diverse, even though it is based on the principle of universal banking. Several bank groups are now fully or partially specialized:

The “Big” Banks
The two “big” banks – UBS AG and the Credit Suisse Group – together account for over 50% of the balance sheet total of all banks in Switzerland. UBS AG is the world’s leader in wealth management and also Switzerland’s leading bank for individual and corporate clients. It is also an important global player in investment banking and the securities business. The Credit Suisse Group is a globally-active financial services provider. Besides offering comprehensive financial advice to private clients, it offers solutions through the Winterthur insurance company to pension and insurance questions and as a financial intermediary it also serves global companies and institutions as well as public corporations.

Cantonal banks
Formerly one to two per canton, there are today a total of 24 Cantonal banks (in Switzerland’s 26 cantons and half-cantons); Cantonal banks are semi-governmental organizations with a state guarantee. Liberalization is currently underway with respect to the state guarantee. Despite their close connection to the state, cantonal banks must comply with commercial principles in their business activities. Their objective, according to cantonal law, is to promote the canton’s economy. Field of activity: engaged in all banking businesses; emphasis on lending/deposit business.

Regional banks and savings banks
Smaller universal banks with an emphasis on lending/deposit business. These banks voluntarily restrict their activities to one region. Advantage: customer proximity — they are acquainted with local circumstances and with regional business cycles.

The Raiffeisen Group
The Raiffeisen Group consists of affiliated independent banks with strong local roots and which are organized along cooperative lines. They have a history of more than a century.
The Raiffeisen banks have the highest number of branches in Switzerland and they are all affiliated to the Swiss Union of Raiffeisen Banks. The Union has the strategic leadership of the whole Group and is responsible for the Group’s risk management. The Union also coordinates the Group’s activities, provides on-the-ground framework conditions for the business activities of the individual local banks (e.g. IT, infrastructure, refinancing) and advises and supports them in all matters so they can concentrate on their core business, namely advising clients and selling banking services. The Raiffeisen Group is one of Switzerland’s leading retail banks and has significantly increased its market share over the past few years.

Private banks
Among the oldest banks in Switzerland. Legal form: individually owned firms, collective and limited partnerships. Private bankers are subject to unlimited subsidiary liability with their personal assets. Field of activity: asset management, chiefly for private clients; as a rule, private banks do not publicly offer to accept savings deposits.

Foreign banks
Foreign-control means that over half of the company’s votes are held by foreigners with qualified interests. Origin of banks: Europe, predominantly EU (over 50%), Japan (around 20%). Fields of activity: foreign business (share of foreign assets in the balance sheet total is 70%), asset management.

Other banks
This bank group includes banks with various business objectives, such as: institutes specializing in the stock exchange, securities and asset management businesses; commercial banks: as a rule, these are universal banks for which mortgage investments play a significant role, in addition to commercial loans to trade, industry and commerce; and consumer credit institutes: institutes specializing in small loans (to private individuals and the industry).
There are more than 600 banks operating in Switzerland. Practically all major international banking institutions are represented there.