Switzerland news: Nostalgia for the golden days of foreign tax abuse from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung has a revealing article about how Swiss private banking has changed over the years. Based on anonymous quotes from former bankers – some of which sound a bit too perfect e.g. “My job has become a nightmare” – it presents a stylized, mostly uncritical narrative (this is also pointed out by the first comments below the article).

Key extracts and selected quotes:

– Until the 90s advising rich private clients was seen as banal and uninteresting. The former head of Julius Bär was recommended early in his career to go into investment banking rather than private banking, which mainly involved “walking the dog with rich clients and chatting about the weather”.

– At that time acquiring clients abroad was not a big deal: “…money practically flowed to Swiss banks by itself. Business people and tourists from all over the world travelled to Zurich, Geneva or Lugano and opened an account; they often brought the money in a suitcase.”

– From the early nineties on, the business started to specialize: bankers were required to know about the politics, economy, culture and sport of other countries. Bankers with a military background were particularly in demand at this time, and were expected to build networks through political and club activities.

– By the mid and late nineties, former traders were reaching management positions in large banks. People who “did not think long-term and ruthlessly sought their own advantage”. An anonymous advisor identifies this time as the “beginning of the end”.

– A former UBS banker is quoted saying: “a new type of client advisor appeared, who consciously moved into the grey or even black zone…every advisor knew that what we were doing could be found problematic or criminal by the US authorities…clients were met in anonymous hotels using code words. It was stressful, but everyone was aware of the risk, and was paid accordingly”.

– Anonymous former bankers are quoted justifying what they did by saying that their bosses and the banks knew and supported their activities. Others are still convinced that what they did was morally right, citing the Holocaust (!) as a justification to not trust governments.

Note: The myth that “Swiss bank secrecy was put in place to help protect the assets of Holocaust victims” is thoroughly debunked by Nick Shaxson in Treasure Islands.  

– Swiss banks “no longer want anything to do with dirty money”. The job of the private banker has become more boring, and advisors with foreign clients complain that banks have become overly cautious.

Despite maintaining a wistful tone throughout, the article ends by saying that the bankers interviewed are not nostalgic themselves: many of their long-term clients shifted the blame for tax evasion onto the banks in their statements to US authorities.

Original in German, translation with some help from google.

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