International Finance
Finance Wealth Management

Switzerland Far Ahead of the Pack

The key players in the Swiss financial centre are the banks, and their core business is wealth management. 27th August 2013 When you mention Switzerland, most people think of mountains and cheese with banks coming a close third. The country has a highly successful market economy based on banking and international trade, its standards of living, workforce productivity and healthcare are higher than any other...

The key players in the Swiss financial centre are the banks, and their core business is wealth management.

27th August 2013

When you mention Switzerland, most people think of mountains and cheese with banks coming a close third. The country has a highly successful market economy based on banking and international trade, its standards of living, workforce productivity and healthcare are higher than any other European country. Inflation is low and unemployment negligible, the economy is highly dependent on skilled expatriates, who represent 20 percent of the workforce. Agriculture employs less than five percent of the people since the total land arable is just less than ten percent. The primary agricultural products are dairy products, grains, fruits and vegetables; tourism contributes a huge chunk of the revenues to the government.

Due its central location in Europe and political stability it has become one of the most important financial destinations. In the first quarter of 2013 its economy expanded more than the forecast, due to strong domestic demand helping it perform better compared to its European counterparts. Its GDP rose from 0.6 percent from the fourth quarter, exceeding the anticipated growth of 0.3 percent, as per information available from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs in Bern. The Swiss National Bank set a cap of 1.20 per Euro on the franc to ward off deflation and a recession, this ceiling has helped the country immensely as it has managed it overcome recession that have affected the euro area.

Germany, which is the largest economy in Europe, expanded only 0.1 percent in the first quarter.

Bank Secrecy- Trouble Ahead?

The country which has four official languages (German, Italian, Romansh and English) has amassed a wealth of $ 2.2 trillion of wealth management assets from overseas deposits. Eveline Widmer Schlumpf ‘s efforts to end the country’s reputation as a tax haven for cheats has been unsuccessful with the Parliament rejecting a bill on June 19th that would have allowed Swiss banks to co-operate with the U.S. and settle a long running dispute with American tax cheats. It is also facing pressure from the European Union to join a system in which nations would automatically share bank data; however, the move to end the Swiss tradition of bank secrecy would require national referendum. The bill has been met with huge opposition with Widmer Schlumpf being called a “Traitor” by the anti-immigration party.

The Swiss Lesson for the Financial Crisis- 2008

The key players in the Swiss financial centre are the banks, and their core business is wealth management. During the sub-prime mortgage crisis which resulted in an economic crisis worldwide, Switzerland had more reason to be frightened. The country’s banks dominated by UBS and Credit Suisse held assets worth a massive 680 percent of the country’s GDP (when compared to U.S. commercial banks assets of 70 percent of GDP). No one had anticipated about the toxic assets of the banks, but one thing which people understood was these banks were too big for a tiny country like Switzerland to bail out.  Loss of private investment could have crushed the Franc and the economy completely and scary parallels were drawn to Iceland which is on life support from the IMF.

Yet, the country remained unscathed from a recession that lasted six quarters and the Franc is one of the strongest reserve currencies in the world and at the time of writing this report UBS and Credit Suisse have repaid their “bailout” loans from the Swiss National Bank and plan to purchase the toxic assets (which are profitable now), UBS and Credit Suisse also take credit for being among the top ten banks in the world with the highest market capitalisation. Unlike many of the countries with common currency there were no impending dangers that Switzerland would not be able to pay back its debts.

How did the country overcome the crisis?

The country’s regulators and the Central bank acted immediately on the failing banks which had a balance sheet of more than four times the size of Swiss economy, when UBS was on the verge of a collapse the Swiss National Bank set up a stabilisation fund into which its illiquid assets could be transferred and recapitalized the rest, this is when rest of Europe were still deciding to bail out the failing banks and protect the investors. The Swiss government also predicted that the crisis was only temporary and the decision to bail out the banks would not only protect the investors, tax payers and creditors but the banks themselves.

Result: The BBC reported on August 16th, 2013 that Switzerland Central Bank had confirmed that UBS had repaid its loan given for its bailout in 2008 when the bank was in the midst of a crisis, reposing the faith shown by the Switzerland’s Central Bank and the government.

Strong Banking Sector

The country’s policies have a clear vision to protect its banks; which remains one of the key sectors in its economy. It continues to make a significant contribution to gross value and is inextricably linked to other economic sectors. The other sectors benefit from the banks in several ways: They provide loans at lower rates of interest compared to other countries thus and providing the much needed capital to companies to innovate and expand, secondly, as per information from Bloomberg, Banks and insurers had 152,000 full time employees last year compared to 588,000 who worked for industrial companies.

Competitive Nation

Deprived of natural resources crucial for the development of industries, Swiss companies have focussed on specialized, knowledge based industries because of competition from lower cost countries, it has the world’s highest industrial production per capita and is the most competitive nation overall according to World  Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. Swiss industrial production per person rose to $ 12, 260 in 2010 from $ 7,177 in 1991 according to Deloitte, a report from the European commission on innovation reported that Switzerland is the regional “leader” continuously outperforming its much hyped peers including Germany, France and U.K. The country also has flexible labour laws accepted by the employees and the longest working hours in Europe. The growth in engineering and manufacturing industries has reduced its dependence on the financial sector, on requests from regulators; Swiss banks have reduced their dependence on borrowed money and exited businesses that have failed to generate expected returns.

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