Friday, April 22, 2011

New rules for Swiss banks mark shift away from undeclared assets

Switzerland is expected to make changes to its banking laws that will make it more difficult for European neighbors to hide their assets from tax collectors. The proposed agreement with Germany and Britain, expected to be reached by the summer of this year, is intended to preserve banking secrecy, but marks a shift away from undeclared assets. France and Italy are expected to reach similar deals with Switzerland thereafter.

Switzerland is seeking to avoid recurrences of some of the more contentious responses to the problem of banking secrecy for foreign tax collectors, such as the lawsuit between the IRS and UBS that resulted in a payment of $780 million, Swiss bankers being arrested abroad, and the theft and sale of Swizz bank client lists to foreign governments that wish to collect taxes legally owed to them.

The shift in Switzerland’s banking will likely result in the downsizing or consolidation of some firms that rely solely on undeclared assets. Although client confidentiality will be retained under the proposed agreement, Swiss banks will likely be forced to compete in a more transparent environment, the results of which are only beginning to unfold.