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Rediff.com  » Business » Swiss banks lose sheen among Indians as secrecy ends

Swiss banks lose sheen among Indians as secrecy ends

January 25, 2015 15:18 IST

With the Swiss government showing eagerness to help India trace suspected black money hoarders, banks based in Switzerland appear to be losing traction among the wealthy Indian clients and could not get much business commitments during the just-ended WEF summit.

In a major departure from their earlier practice of luring wealthy clients in the name of 'safe havens', Swiss bankers were seen pitching their 'superior banking' services to their prospective clients, but Indian corporate leaders did not appear much impressed.

Nonetheless, a large number of Indians present here at Davos had scheduled meetings with bankers and top executives of various small and large Swiss banks. Many of them, however, claimed these meetings were about the corporate banking related requirements rather than for the 'personal wealth management' services.

The annual WEF meeting in this Swiss ski resort town has always been a perfect place for the bankers from Switzerland-based financial institutions to sign up new clients or get new business from their existing customers, including those from India.

However, a global crackdown against secrecy walls of Swiss banks, as also continuing attempts by Indian authorities to bring to task those suspected to have stashed black money in Switzerland-based banks, appear to be bearing fruit – at least with regard to the dealings related to Indians' funds finding their way to banks in this Alpine country.

Earlier on the sidelines of WEF summit, Switzerland assured India of full cooperation on tax information exchange and agreed to discuss the issue of black money stashed in Swiss banks.

"We had an excellent meeting. There are opportunities for a lot of cooperation with India," Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said.

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Switzerland has agreed to share information expeditiously on black money cases where independent evidence is furnished and said automatic exchange of details would help in curbing the menace of illicit funds.

"Now we do have independent evidence and material available. So, now we have to come back to Switzerland with that material on the basis of which we can get (the information)," the Finance Minister said.

According to Jaitley, Switzerland has assured that on the basis of such independent information "they will cooperate".

A number of corporate leaders and some Swiss bankers said discussions between them were not focussed on providing 'safe haven' to funds, but rather clients are being promised better banking services than anywhere else in the world.

The change in approach, however, was not being received well by the Indians looking to do business with Swiss banks, as 'better services' can be availed in various other parts of the world and the main attraction for Switzerland had always remained the 'safe haven' tag.

On condition of anonymity, some attendees of WEF summit said bankers were also pitching for arranging 'business deals' to mask the flow of black money, but such banks are very few as of now.

Some other banks have tried innovative ideas to lure rich clients from India and other countries by providing services like 'cash courier' as well as by offering large metal vaults to store currency notes, gold, artworks and other valuables.

Also on the platter was advice to put money in virtual currencies, especially in the wake of Bitcoin ATMs now operational in Zurich. As per the latest data available with the European nation's central bank, the Swiss National Bank, the total funds held by Indians in Swiss banks declined to a record low of about Rs 9,000 crore (1.42 billion Swiss francs) at the end of 2012, but rose again to over Rs 14,000 crore in 2013. The data for 2014 is yet to be published.

The overall funds held in Swiss banks by entities from across the world however continue to decline amid fading secrecy benefits.

Last year, India and Switzerland reached a major agreement wherein the Alpine nation has agreed to cooperate in a big way in the Indian government's fight against black money. 

Barun Jha in Davos
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