The author of this article, a familiar face in the Swiss and wider world of private client advisory work, gives this summary of important developments in the Alpine state, such as regulations of external asset managers, changes to forced heirship rules on inheritance, and the impact of new technology.
We carry this brief commentary on several important
developments in the Swiss wealth management industry from a
private client practitioner, Cécile Civiale Vuillier. She is the
chief executive and group head of private clients for
TrustConsult (Suisse) SA, based in Geneva. She is also
involved with the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners
(STEP). (This news service attended the TrustConsult conference
in Monaco earlier this year. See here
for a report.
Cecile Civialle Vuillier
Switzerland has been through several major changes, such as the start of new regulations on the external asset management sector from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), the financial watchdog. The country’s prominence as an international financial hub means that developments in the Alpine state cause ripple effects elsewhere. (We have recently examined FINMA’s stance on cryptocurrencies, among other issues.)
The editors of this news service are pleased to share these views and invite responses. The usual editorial disclaimers apply. Email email@example.com
Switzerland continued to build on its strengths as an international private wealth hub with a focus on cross-border wealth management, despite turbulence in the banking sector following the collapse of Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse.
The wealth industry is undergoing a paradigm shift fuelled by changing demographics, generational wealth transfer, and rapidly expanding digitalisation. For generations, Switzerland has been the go-to destination for offshore wealth. Private banks are as synonymous with the Alpine state as chocolate, watches, and cheese. But recent situations appeared to come the way of Swiss banks as Russian oligarchs were sanctioned and fears emerged about the demise of Credit Suisse.
Nevertheless, Switzerland will remain a strong force in wealth management thanks to its deep-rooted banking expertise and its safe-haven status, but sanctions against Russia (putting Switzerland in sync with the position of the European Union), and the collapse of Credit Suisse [now part of UBS] have shaken the financial centre.
Digital technology has revolutionised the industry with the rise of online platforms and robo-advisors. This tech can make wealth management services more accessible, affordable, and transparent in terms of products and pricing. Even so, clients still value the personal touch and human interactions that come with working with a relationship manager or advisor. This is particularly the case for more complex or emotional decisions related to their wealth and family. Finally, it is essential to note that technology such as ChatGPT is not a substitute for human expertise and oversight.
Inheritance law in Switzerland has gone through important amendments. A degree of modernisation was needed as life expectancies increased and different forms of family life became commonplace. The new rules apply to the estates of all persons passing away from 1 January 2023 onwards.
The changes are as follow:
-- Reduction in the descendants’ forced heirship;
-- Abolition of the compulsory share allotted to parents; and
-- Impossibility of spouse or registered partner to lay claim to forced heirship while divorce proceedings are ongoing or during dissolution of a registered partnership.
Swiss trust law
As recently as 15 September 2023, the Federal Council acknowledged the results of a consultation on the introduction of trusts into Swiss law, revealing insufficient political consensus for such a move. The proposed tax rules were rejected by the participants in the consultation, leading the Federal Council to suggest parliament’s rejection of the motion. Consequently, the introduction of a domestic Swiss trust Law seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Changes to Swiss corporate law
New provisions of the Swiss Code of Obligations on corporate law came into force on 1 January 2023. These provide greater flexibility for share capital and equity distributions, improve corporate governance by enhancing shareholder rights and modernise the requirements for shareholders meetings (largely reflecting the temporary regimes adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic).
Regulation of trustees and external asset managers 2023
These signalled the end of the transition period for existing portfolio managers and trustees to operate in Switzerland without a full licence. At the start of 2023, FINMA had received just under 1,700 licence applications, with just over 1,500 of these from portfolio managers, and the remainder from trustees. As of today, FINMA had granted about 888 licences to portfolio managers, 43 licences to trustees and eight licences to institutions acting as portfolio managers and trustees.