Swiss banks are renowned for their Private Banking departments which assist high net worth individuals and families. However, there a number of Swiss banks that specialise in supporting corporate clients. Swiss corporate accounts can be used for both offshore companies and for corporate businesses with local operations in Switzerland.
Banks supporting corporate clients have different specialisations, quality of service and approaches to client servicing. Here, Vadim Neumann, Managing Director Zürich and Zug explains the possibilities of opening corporate accounts. He will cover scenarios for both Swiss and non-Swiss companies as well as for businesses owned by non-residents of Switzerland.
General compliance considerations
According to FINMA (the Swiss financial regulator), provided that transactions in corporate accounts are opened and carried out in accordance with Swiss anti-money laundering legislation, every bank has the right to decide on the individual requirements for companies that need operational corporate accounts with them. Banks also have the right to open accounts for both local and offshore companies without specific substance requirements or minimum account balances. In other words, banks open corporate accounts at their complete discretion.
In the case of Swiss companies, most banks make a distinction between passive and active companies. Passive companies (domiciliary entities) are usually companies with non-Swiss shareholders without employees in Switzerland and their own offices. These are often holding structures or operating companies. Most cantonal or small private banks will refuse such clients.
However, larger Swiss banks and some specialised private banks are willing to accept such clients. These banking relationships are often subject to a minimum annual payment. The payment helps cover the costs of the increased compliance checks which are often necessary due to the nature of the company’s operations and lack of substance in Switzerland. This fee is generally between 5,000 to 20,000 Swiss francs annually. Banks can also offer to open operational accounts if the beneficiary of the company has private capital which is under the management of the same bank. The company and its owner must have successfully passed the compliance checks of the bank before such corporate accounts can be opened.
Banks usually classify companies that have their own office in Switzerland (i.e. with a rental contract) and at least one local employee (who is neither a fiduciary director, nor a secretary on a part-time contract) as being active companies. If these conditions are met, a number of cantonal or other Swiss banks will open their doors to clients, without increased compliance rates. The banks tend to serve small and medium-sized Swiss businesses.
Requirements for non-Swiss companies
Some Swiss banks may open corporate accounts for non-Swiss companies. Usually, these are passive holding structures, and the corporate banking relationship is usually allowed because the owner of the structure keeps a part of their personal capital under the management of the Private Banking department of the same bank.
However, there are exceptions when active companies can also open an account with a local Swiss bank, subject to the payment of additional compliance costs of the bank and a justified need for a corporate bank account in Switzerland. Examples would include Swiss business partners of the company requiring a local bank account for handling payments etc.
Since banks consider each client on a case-by-case basis and Swiss legislation does not clearly define what corporate banking relationships are allowed with regards to active, passive and non-Swiss companies, a good option is to talk to a variety of banks and consider your individual situation.
In case of further questions, please contact Vadim Neumann.