We are all familiar with the scenario from old whodunit movies:
the police are trying to chase down some stolen money only to be thwarted because the goods are stashed in a Swiss bank account and cannot be traced. Is that really true? And can anybody open a Swiss bank account?
Swiss bank accounts are indeed available to anyone with an initial deposit of $20,000. It is not just those in search of hiding money seek out a Swiss bank account. In fact, money laundering or the act of converting money gained illegally is not protected by bank secrecy in Swiss law. The Swiss laws against money laundering are the strictest in Europe.
On the other hand, Swiss law does not consider tax evasion outside of Switzerland a criminal offense. Therefore, a warrant from a foreign tax-collecting agency is not sufficient to break the secrecy laws in Swiss banks. If a Swiss bank suspects that money deposited into an account is illegal, either at the initial deposit or afterward, it can freeze the account and launch an investigation.
Aside from bank secrecy laws that ensure the highest level of discretion and privacy, Switzerland is a popular destination for personal assets for its stability as a nation. The last war fought in Switzerland was in the 15th century and assets are safe from political turmoil and seizure in wartime. Swiss bank accounts are governed by institutions from one of the most experienced money managing systems in the world. Switzerland holds a 40% market share of all international private banking business.
When opening a personal Swiss bank account it is possible to obtain a numbered account which will be known only to the depositor but the issuing bank will need to know the precise identity of the depositor and the beneficiary of deposited funds. Passport copies and signature authentication are required to start a Swiss bank account. Accounts can be opened in just about any currency.
Stripped of the secrecy feature, a Swiss bank account differs little from an account you open at the neighborhood bank on the corner. You can get a VISA card from the issuing bank and a debit card for use in automatic teller machines (ATMs) anywhere in the world. You can access your Swiss bank account by telephone or by the Internet. You can also open your Swiss bank account via the Internet.
Like local banks, there are a variety of Swiss bank accounts available. For serious investors, Swiss bank investment accounts (deposits over $100,000 in many cases) offer managed portfolio accounts in stocks, bonds and currency on all major world markets. In addition to the same secrecy benefits afforded personal accounts, investment accounts are not subject to capital gain tax in Switzerland.
The fee for a personal Swiss bank account is typically a one-time expense of a few hundred dollars. Swiss investment accounts may be opened free of charge but are often docked a portfolio management fee, often in the range of 1%. Other fees can apply on transactions. All in all, not much difference from your local bank account.