Now it’s Swiss expats who are struggling to keep their homeland accounts

For years, American and British expatriates have complained of the difficulties they’ve faced in trying to keep bank accounts back in their home countries. Indeed, the problem has been so severe in recent years for Americans that the American Citizens Abroad helped to arrange for the US State Department Federal Credit Union to create an offshore account designed specifically for American expats.

(This special account, launched last year, enabled the ACA and the US State Department Credit Union team to win the Best International US Services Provider award at this publication’s 2016 International Fund and Product Awards event in October.)

Now, it seems, Swiss expatriates are encountering problems as well, according to a report published today on the English-language SwissInfo.ch news website.

When offshore accounts can be obtained, the fees can be high, which the few banks that offer such accounts say are necessary to cover their own costs, the report notes.

According to SwissInfo, Swiss expatriates have become so frustrated by the difficulties they’re facing in trying to maintain and open accounts while abroad that they are “turning up the heat on Swiss institutions to grant discrimination-free access to financial services”.

The issue, the report adds, “has plagued the [Swiss expat] community for nearly a decade”.

The article quotes Ariane Rustichelli, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), as saying “enough is enough”.

According to SwissInfo, the Swiss Parliament in May threw out a call by one of the country’s lawmakers which urged the government to propose a legal amendment that would have guaranteed Swiss expats the right to open a bank account with a major Swiss bank.

Nevertheless, Rustichelli told the news website that she was confident that a solution to the problem could be found eventually.

“I think we stand a good chance of finding a satisfactory solution,” she told SwissInfo.

“There is an increasing public awareness of the problem, and support in parliament is growing.”

According to SwissInfo, a Swiss Parliamentarian named Filippo Lombardi has taken up the cause of the Swiss expatriates, arguing that any hurdles which could limit the mobility of the growing overseas Swiss community should be eliminated.

“Swiss citizens living abroad need a bank account in Switzerland, notably to take out health insurance, to pay into the state old age pension scheme, cover expenses during their visits to Switzerland or to be able to manage property,” he told SwissInfo.

Fees ‘necessary to cover costs’

PostFinance, a unit of Swiss Post, is said to be among the few retail banks willing to accept Swiss clients who live abroad, but according to the SwissInfo report, it offers such basic services as the ability to hold private bank account, carry out e-banking, use a debit card and carry out general financial transactions voluntarily – and at a price that allows it to cover its costs.

“We understand that these fees are not very popular among our Swiss expat customers,” company spokesman Johannes Möri told SwissInfo.

“However, the increasing regulatory demands in the cross-border business made price hikes unavoidable.”

Mori would have been referring to such regulations as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Common Reporting Standard, which is coming into force over the next two years around the world and requires financial institutions to automatically exchange banking information. There are also anti-money-laundering regulations, and for those with US financial interests, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act rules.

To read the article in full on the SwissInfo.ch website, click here.

To read about the American Citizens Abroad’s banking product for expat Americans, click here. 

British expatriates have long complained about the difficulties they faced in maintaining accounts in the UK with UK banks. When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, and caused Iceland’s Kaupthing Singer Friedlander (Isle of Man) and the Guernsey outpost of Landsbanki to fail, many of those with accounts that weren’t covered by depositors’ compensation schemes had been expats who had either been unable to get onshore bank accounts, or whose accounts had been moved to these institutions.

Information about the struggle the Landsbanki depositors faced in their efforts to get back their entire deposits may still be found on the website of the Landsbanki Guernsey Depositors Action Group, by clicking here. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Helen Burggraf
Helen Burggraf is the editor of International Investment. A US-trained journalist, she has worked in Rome, New York City and London, covering everything from the fashion and retailing industries to the global drinking water and water-treatment sector, private equity, and most recently, the international cross-border financial services/advice industry.

Read more from Helen Burggraf

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