Swiss bank accounts have a reputation for security, privacy, and client satisfaction. Maybe because of reputation alone, many high-net-worth individuals, ranging from doctors to business executives to estate heirs and more, want to know how to open a Swiss bank account as soon as they have savings worth protecting.
Is the process similar to setting up a bank account in the US? In part. But it’s also significantly more complex, and it’s not the only question you should think about if you want to protect your assets outside America’s legal jurisdiction.
Why Open a Swiss Bank Account in the First Place?
The reputation Swiss banks have curated over the years isn’t unfounded. In fact, Swiss banks do offer very good economic security, asset protection, and confidentiality in a lot of cases.
Swiss banks are highly capitalized, and they’re very safe and secure. In addition, Swiss banks allow you to open accounts in practically every major currency. Because of this, you can deposit money into a Swiss bank and take it out as a completely different currency for international business transactions.
Thanks to its stability and neutrality, the Swiss economy helps to ensure the solid bank reputation that Switzerland has enjoyed. Swiss bank accounts could be great options for business owners, especially international executives that want to expand their activities and deals into new countries.
But they are also potentially good ideas for protecting certain liquid assets from litigation and other possible hazards.
How to Open a Swiss Bank Account Step by Step
If you want to open a Swiss bank account, you’ll have an advantage if you have already opened a bank account in America, as the steps are somewhat similar.
Start the Process Online
In most cases, you can visit a Swiss bank’s website and begin opening your bank account there. You must provide the bank with your basic information and write down the instructions you’ll need to follow to finalize the process.
Gather Documentation and Send
Next, gather any of the required documentation and send it to the Swiss bank you wish to work with. You’ll need multiple forms of ID, a copy of your passport, driver’s license, and other forms at a bare minimum.
Given this fact, and the realities of document acquisition (a passport, for example, can take months to acquire if you don’t have one), you should begin the process of opening a Swiss bank account several months ahead of when you will need it, especially if you are not geographically close to Switzerland.
Meet with the Bank in Person
Most of the time, you’ll be required to visit your Swiss bank of choice in person for a consultation. If the first two steps of the process go smoothly, and the bank receives all the needed documents ahead of time, it will tell you when your consultation is scheduled to be held. Don’t be late.
Make Your First Deposit
Resuming that your consultation goes smoothly, your bank account will be opened, and you'll be able to use your Swiss bank account as you please. You can make your first deposit at the same consultation in some cases. The bank will ask you which currency you wish to hold your funds in. Remember, Swiss banks can hold your funds in any major currency, not just US dollars.
Key Things to Consider Before Opening a Swiss Bank Account
Even though the steps to open a Swiss bank account seems simple on paper, it's not as easy as walking into your local Chase Bank branch in America and signing on a few dotted lines. Before you open any Swiss bank account, we heavily recommend you consider these key factors.
You’ll Need to Show Up in Person
For starters, you must show up in person. If you try to sign up for a Swiss bank and they don't require you to make an in-person visit, they aren't worth your time, especially for high-net-worth individuals like yourself.
Any Swiss bank worth its salt (and your money) will require a consultation with each new client. The consultation is meant to ensure that they don't do business with someone who is engaged in illegal activity, and so they can determine whether they can meet your exact needs.
So if you can’t carve the time out of your schedule to hop on a plane to Switzerland, don’t plan on opening a bank account here anytime soon.
Or You'll Need a Pre-existing Relationship with the Bank
There is one exception to the in-person consultation requirement when opening a Swiss bank account: if you already have a pre-existing relationship with a given bank, they may not require another in-person consultation.
In this sense, it’s easier to open up secondary or even tertiary Swiss bank accounts after your first one is already open. The longer you stick with the same Swiss bank, the easier it will be to take advantage of that bank’s various services and instruments.
This is true with every bank, but it’s an especially salient advantage for the best banks in Switzerland for protecting estate assets and corporate wealth.
Be Prepared for Lots of Paperwork and Documentation
Even if you have a good relationship with a Swiss bank, you should expect that bank to ask for extensive documentation. The compliance standards for opening a Swiss bank account are tremendous. Thorough documentation is always required when opening a Swiss bank account for paper trail purposes and, again, to ensure that the bank can provide you with top-tier service.
That’s doubly true if you plan to open a business bank account in Switzerland. Be prepared to provide bank statements, financial records, multiple forms of identification, and much more.
It may be a good idea to have your financial advisor and/or legal team accompany you to your consultation with a Swiss bank just so you can make sure you have all of your paperwork in order. The last thing you want to do is waste a trip to the bank because you forgot some key documents needed to complete the opening process.
Fees for Swiss Banks
In addition to all the above elements, keep in mind that your Swiss bank account will likely charge you regular fees. Monthly maintenance fees can range from CHF 100 to CHF 1,000 in many cases. But if you set up a new business bank account in Switzerland, you may find that your first year of fees is waived (it’s a common a deal to entice new customers).
Of course, fees can vary heavily. If you sign up for a Swiss bank account with a bank that you already have a good relationship with, it's possible you could face fewer fees, if any.
Is a Swiss Bank Account the Right Choice?
It very well might be. People bank in Switzerland for different reasons than they did 20 or 30 years ago when opening an offshore bank account was much easier. In this day and age, Swiss bank accounts are still highly valuable and versatile financial tools, especially for asset protection.
But while all of the above information is useful, it’s important to remember that Swiss bank accounts are not your only options. If you are looking to protect assets or wealth in an offshore bank account, defaulting to Switzerland could be a bad choice, as it may blind you to other possibilities.
There are plenty of premium banking options you can pursue in stellar jurisdictions like Singapore, the Netherlands, Panama, Isle of Man, Malta, and much more. These legal jurisdictions may offer superior banking products or savings vehicles depending on your exact needs.
In contrast, many people believe that jurisdictions like the Cook Islands or the Caribbean are perfect offshore savings havens. In reality, it’s the opposite.
The Caribbean is a terrible place to bank, as are the Cook Islands. America, despite what many natives think, is one of the best places to bank for non-American natives! But if you don’t know these facts or if you don’t work with the right advisors, you might open a bank account in the wrong jurisdiction by accident.
Working with Dominion
You should speak to financial advisors at Dominion. Our advisory team can take a hard look at your business or financial profile and make recommendations based on:
- Your business or personal legal jurisdictions and liability zones
- What you need from an offshore bank account
- Which banks might be best for your needs
As an example, if you want to set up an offshore bank account, a bank in a very isolated jurisdiction will be a superior choice. However, if you want to set up an offshore bank account and later set up an offshore trust for asset protection, it’s a better idea that those two tools are not in the same jurisdiction. If they are, a vulnerability for one could compromise the other and vice versa.
These are the questions you’ll need to consider. Get in touch with Dominion today to learn more about how to open a Swiss bank account or any other offshore account.