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Association for Financial HistorySwitzerland and Principality of Liechtenstein
Swiss Banking Secrecy:Origins, Significance,Myth
The Association for Financial History (Switzerland and Principality of Liechtenstein)
focuses on financial history. Through events and publications it makes topical historical
issues accessible to a wider public beyond specialist circles.
Volume 7Contributions to Financial History
Robert U. Vogler
The following titles have appeared in the Contributions to Financial History series:
Walther Hofer, Herbert R. Reginbogin: Hitler, der Westen und die Schweiz 19361945
(2nd unamended edition)
Werner de Capitani: Banking Confidentiality and Historical Research
(also available in German and French)
Michel Fior: Le rle de lEntre-deux-guerres dans le dveloppement de la place
Jean-Christian Lambelet: Recherche historique et sciences sociales. Rflexions dun
Beat Kappeler: Nach 50 Jahren: Die Renten fr die Alten in einer neuen Welt
Nikolaus Linder: Der Fall Malacrida. Ein Berner Bankenkrach und seine Folgen
Robert U. Vogler: Swiss Banking Secrecy: Origins, Significance, Myth
(also available in German)
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The Association for Financial History (Switzerland and Principality of Liechtenstein) was
founded in 1990 and initially concentrated on banking history. In 2000 the Association
for Financial History expanded its activities to include the insurance industry, and now
dedicates itself to historical and archive-related questions concerning the financial sectors
of Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The purpose of the Association is:
to promote financial history research in Switzerland and Liechtenstein;
to support research projects in this field;
to make the results of financial history research available to the academic world, finan-
cial institutions and the public through publications, lectures and events;
to make sure that valuable documents held by financial institutions are preserved, to
develop their information management and archiving systems;
to promote contacts between financial experts and historians and the interchange of
know-how, and to cultivate cooperation with financial history researchers abraod.
Members of the Board of Directors Fritz Jrg (RBA Holding), Chairman; Dr. Robert
U. Vogler (UBS), Vice Chairman; Jean-Louis Emmenegger (Banque Cantonale Vaudoise);
Rudolf Frei (Swiss Re); Prof. Dr. Joseph Jung (Credit Suisse Group); Dr. Hugo Renz
(Liechtenstein Bankers Association); Dr.Thomas Sieber (Bloise Insurance)
Members of the Advisory Board Prof. Jrg Baumberger (University of St. Gallen); Prof.
Bruno Gehrig (Chairman of the Board of Directors of Swiss Life Holding); Dr. Felix Walker
(National Councilor and former CEO of the Swiss Association of Raiffeisenbanken);
Dr. Christoph Winzeler (Member of the Executive Board of the Swiss Bankers Association)
Secretary/Managing Director Dr. Jrg Spiller
Contact Association for Financial History (Switzerland and Principality of Liechtenstein)
P.O. Box 6188, CH-8023 Zurich
Tel. +41 44 333 71 92, fax +41 44 333 97 96; e-mail: email@example.com
2006 Association for Financial History (Switzerland and Principality of Liechtenstein)
P.O.Box 6188, CH-8023 Zurich
Tel. +4144 333 7192, fax +4144 333 97 96; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
ISSN 1660-1432, ISBN 3-95227-7-2
The following text represents the authors personal opinion, which is not necessarilythat of the Association.
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Robert U. Vogler
Swiss Banking Secrecy:Origins, Significance, Myth
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Robert U. VoglerRobert Urs Vogler was born in Baden, Switzerland, in 1948.
Studied modern history, English literature and Swiss history at theUniversity of Zurich;1982 PhD on Economic Negotiations betweenSwitzerland and Germany 1940 and 1941 (new edition 1997).
19781982 Head of editorial documentation at Tages-Anzeigerof Zurich. 19821984 Researcher and archivist at the Swiss NationalBank (SNB). 1985 Published an SNB study on gold transactionsbetween the Swiss National Bank and the German Reichsbankfrom 1939 to 1945. Until 1987 Research Director at a global execu-tive search firm. Press spokesman for Union Bank of Switzerland(UBS) from 1988 to 1998. Until 2003 head of Group HistoricalResearch UBS, Zurich. Since 2003 Senior Political Analyst at UBSPublic Policy.
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Foreword 5Introduction 7Issues 9
From the birth of banking secrecy to the Second World War 11Economic reasons for enacting a banking law 11Banking secrecy, war tax, federal tax 12Shifting alliances between farmers and Social Democrats 16Questions of internal security 17Bank espionage 19Basler Handelsbank and the significance of the Paris affair 20Further causes and speculation 23The Volksbank crisis as catalyst 24Broad political consensus 26
After the Second World War 29Reasons for the appeal of the Swiss financial center 30Political stability 18901990 a selective comparison 31Stable economy and currency the search for a safe haven 34The stability of the Swiss banking system 41The free convertibility of the Swiss franc 42Early globalization of the Swiss economy and banks 45Banking secrecy as one success factor 51The myth of numbered accounts 55Experience and memory; professionalism of services 56Capital flight, flight capital and tax evasion 57Nazi money, dictators and money laundering 61Attacks, affairs and insinuations since 1945 65Banking secrecy a guarantee for thrills in literature and film 67
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Appendix 74Selected events relevant to banking secrecy, 1945 to around 1990 74
Sources and bibliography 101
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The rise of Switzerland as a financial center began about 100 yearsago. Though it is not quite in the same league as the real giants of thefinancial world, over the last 50 years Switzerland has progressed from amodest international standing to occupy a position of real significance.The major difficulties experienced by Swiss banks mainly in the 1930s certainly slowed the pace of progress, but only temporarily. The crisisof the 1930s resulted in new banking legislation, which also laid thelegal foundations for banking secrecy.
People often cite banking secrecy as an indispensable key to the suc-cess of Switzerlands financial industry. But until 1935, Switzerland hadno national banking law and thus no official banking secrecy. What thecountry did offer was a pronounced relationship of trust that had beenbuilt up between banks and clients over the course of the century, andthat had become established as an unwritten code of confidentiality sim-ilar to the one offered by lawyers, doctors or priests. De facto bankingsecrecy had therefore existed for a long time; but it was not enshrined inlegislation until relatively late on. Prior to the 1930s an avowedly liberaleconomic and political environment, and an equally pronounced under-standing of the importance of privacy and discretion had made such leg-islation superfluous.
Ever since the national law on banks and savings banks came intoforce, banking secrecy has been the subject of debate and the almostpermanent target of attacks from within Switzerland as well as fromother countries. This study attempts to provide an overview of the rele-vant processes and events, and the motivations of the different playersinvolved, but also looks at the myths that have grown up around bankingsecrecy. The study is designed to appeal to a broader audience of inter-ested readers. Its primary aim is to draw out the main strands relating tobanking secrecy and to communicate these in a comprehensible wayto the general reader. It covers a period of about a century from 1890to 1990 but does not claim to be exhaustive. It deliberately leavesout the latest developments, because the author believes that these arestill too recent to judge properly; in some cases they are still runningtheir course.This accords with the classic view of historical study, which
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dictates that no fair history can be written until at least a generationafter the events concerned. The speed at which modern life is livedmeans that this period can be reduced a little, however.
Baden, October 2005 Robert U. Vogler
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When people try to explain the significance and successes of Switzer-land as a financial centre, they all too often reach for the reductive argu-ment, fraught with negative connotations, that it is all because of bank-ing secrecy.1 Swiss banking secrecy has repeatedly been subject tocriticism and challenge from within and from outside Switzerland. Thiscriticism sometimes from the wider public, sometimes from inter-national competitors has been particularly fierce in the decades afterthe Second World War and right up to the present day.
In 1984, the Hamburg