Thursday, February 11, 2010

Numbered accounts profit from bank crisis

From Swissinfo:

"Bankers shut up like clams at the mere mention of these accounts, as discovered. Questions about how many there might be, or what kind of person opens one, get short shrift in Geneva, Zurich or Lugano."

Swissinfo tries to look balanced in its reporting, but usually ends up veering strongly towards those who would protect the secrets of corrupt dictators and other criminal tax evaders and their like. Nevertheless, this story contains some interesting material. Numbered accounts, the stuff of Bond movies, are unusually secretive:

"Most bank orders pass through several hands within a bank and any bank slip normally includes the client’s name and address, but a numbered account avoids these risks.
. . .
All documents containing the client’s name and address are placed in a safe and only a very limited number of authorised bank officials have access to it. “A colleague from another branch of our bank couldn’t discover the identity of a client who has an account with us,” an asset manager at the Ticino branch of a cooperative bank told

In contrast to other kinds of accounts, there is no database matching the name of the holder and the account number. “This gives extra protection to the client’s privacy,” he explained."

Swissinfo continues:

"It seems that these accounts are more popular than ever, thanks to recent cases where whistleblowers have revealed the names of suspected foreign tax evaders to their home governments.

“Foreigners are now going for numbered accounts as a precaution, although this kind of banking was already highly valued by wealthy clients in the past,” said the Ticino asset manager, whose bank has benefitted from the flight of funds which weakened some of the major banks.
. . .
Our customers are becoming more and more demanding as far as confidentiality is concerned. And there is nothing better than a numbered account to respond to their expectations,” he explained."

The Swiss Private Bankers' association reveals how bankers are keen to use these accounts to continue their strategies of abusing the general public, in the face of international efforts to stop them.

“This is one of the last areas where there is still a little bit of freedom in the face of increasing regulation of banking activities,” said Chantal Bourquin, head of communication for the Association of Swiss Private Bankers (ASPB). “That explains why financial institutions are still keen to be discreet.”


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