Monday, December 17, 2012

Swiss banker: "hello sir, are you declared or undeclared?"

We have already blogged on the logical contradictions at the heart of Switzerland's self-styled "white money" strategy, which is anything but. If the Swiss bankers genuinely want white money, they will fall in line with European efforts to promote widespread automatic information exchange. But instead they are doing their damnedest to sabotage it.

Now, from Bloomberg, it seems that even this feeble white-money strategy seems too stiff for some Swiss bankers.
"Swiss wealth managers are fighting against government proposals they say will scare off millionaire clients by forcing them to make declarations on the tax status of assets held in private bank accounts."
That story was on December 12th. Two days later, we see:
"Switzerland dropped a proposal that would have obliged the country’s banks to force wealthy clients to make declarations on the tax status of their assets. “There is no self-declaration obligation,” according to a statement today from the Swiss government, which will discuss revisions to its so-called white-money strategy on Dec. 19."
In the December 12th story a Swiss banker, Mr. Gregoire Bordier, produced a spectacular comment that reeks of the prejudices of a class of people who have for too many years seen themselves as above and beyond the rule of law.
"“This is not a question you ask your client: hello sir, are you declared or undeclared?” said Bordier, who is also managing partner at Bordier & Cie."
Just stop and think about the implications of what Bordier seems to be saying here. He is saying that these people are too civilised to participate in civilised society.

It is just too sordid, he seems to be saying, to ask someone whether they have been committing criminal acts; if our wealthy clients were actually required to obey the law, our superior class would have sunk down to the level of the Great Unwashed. Such a brazen act would undermine criminal client relationships. Heavens! This just isn't done in polite society.

To Bourdier's credit, he does then go on to highlight how feeble the self-declaration measure would be, referring to it as a 'petty diligence rule.'

In the same story we also have a very confused lawyer, Fabien Aepli of Eversheds in Geneva, with this statement:
“While banks shouldn’t abuse banking secrecy to help their clients avoid tax, that doesn’t mean they should become the agent of foreign fiscal authorities.”
Let's summarise Mr. Aelpi. "While banks shouldn't help clients engage in criminal tax evasion (as that is what we are talking here in the context of secrecy, not avoidance), that doesn't mean that banks shouldn't help their clients engage in criminal tax evasion." Swiss bankers, coherent to the last.

Memo to Swiss law makers: there is an easy way to adopt a genuine 'white money' strategy. You can do this 'self declaration' policy if it makes you feel better: it is at least a (smallish) step in the right direction. But why not make a proper start? Why not simply abolish banking secrecy? And get rid of  your spoiler 'Rubik" deals, adopt the transparency policy of automatic information exchange as your core ethic, engage with the EU and other regions and countries on providing the appropriate information they need -- and then see just how clever and 'competitive' your bankers really are.

And on that last subject of 'competitiveness', it is at least heartening to see a little gumption on the part of Swiss courts. Here is a little tale that may inflict further pain in Swiss banks' bloated rent-extraction machine, which can only be a good thing. More on that issue another day.

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