I Have a Swiss Bank Account and You Don’t! (Nah nah nah NAH nah!)

[pullquote align=”left”]I’m not trying to brag. Really. There’s always been a certain amount of intrigue and caché associated with having one, until you realize that, at the end of the day, it’s just a bank account.[/pullquote]

I used to think of Swiss Bank Accounts as the province of three groups of people: very rich individuals, criminals, and dictators.  Most of us probably assume that the only purpose of having a Swiss Bank Account is to hide wealth.  Given the mystique surrounding the Swiss and their banks, I think we can be forgiven for such beliefs. However, we’re forgetting a category of people here—actual Swiss residents, which, for the time being, happens to include me.  If you live in Switzerland, it only makes sense that you will open an account at a local bank,which just happens to be part of probably the most storied banking system in the world.

When my husband and I began our transition from life in the US to Geneva, one of our first actions was to open up an account in the bank housed in his office building.  For a while, I joked with stateside friends and family, “We just opened up our Swiss Bank Account–ha ha!”

After the novelty wore off, however, the account simply became a place where the money goes intoor, more correctly, where the money comes out of.


The Swiss banking system has come under intense scrutiny in the last few years.  In 2009, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) included Switzerland on a list of countries that have “committed to but not yet fully implemented” internationally agreed upon standards on exchanging tax information. (Switzerland has since been removed from that list.) The US government has really put the heat on the banks to provide information on their US clients for tax collection purposes.  As a result of a bilateral tax treaty, Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, was forced to turn over banking data on thousands of US account holders and to pay a fine—all in the interest of avoiding a US civil court trial.

This controversy surrounding UBS and its disclosure to the US constituted a breach of the Swiss’ own banking privacy laws.  It was deeply embarrassing to the Swiss, who are very proud and protective of their banks and of the intensive client identity and account information protection that the banks provide. There’s a reason that the aforementioned rich individuals, criminals, and dictators have (allegedly) stashed their cash in the land of mountains and chocolate.

The intense Swiss commitment to banking privacy has left me feeling puzzled, but not for the same reasons it’s frustrated world governments.  At some point, I decided that it would make sense to do more of our in-country banking from the comfort and convenience of my own computer,but unlike other systems where you just sign up online and select your PIN code, I had to fill out an application for online banking services.

Some time later, I received a packet containing an access card and a card reader (which functions as a nifty little calculator too) in the mail. In typical fashion, the PIN code came under separate cover.  OK, I was ready to begin. I read the login instructions and suddenly understood why I went to university,not for pushing the boundaries of knowledge butfor understanding how to access my account.

The login process has some serious security built into it, and all that security makes the process somewhat complex.  I, first, had to insert the card into the reader and enter the PIN.  Next, I entered my online agreement number on the website login page.  The website then proceeded to generate an input number to type into my card reader.  After typing that number into the reader, I got another code to type onto the login page.

That’s four steps as opposed to the two (account number and password) I normally use for my other accounts.   To be honest, I kept getting all the numbers mixed up, and I finally gave up.  I think I accidently broke the card reader anyway. 
The IRS would be proud of us, though.  We duly file all information on our Swiss accounts as required by US law.  Every last centime is accounted for(not that there’s much there to begin with).


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