Switzerland’s stable political and economic climate make it a great place to do business as a foreigner. In fact, according to the World Bank, Switzerland has a trade surplus, meaning it’s exports are worth more than it’s imports. High tech products such as machinery and pharmaceuticals are among the most commonly exported, with Germany and the US the main trading partners.
If you’re involved in exporting from Switzerland, or do a lot of business there, you may decide to open a business bank account in the country to make it easier to manage your money. This guide covers what you need to know about business banking in Switzerland, including:
- Typical company formations in Switzerland
- Opening a business bank account in Switzerland as a foreigner
- Options for opening an account online or from abroad
- Fees and charges you’ll want to consider
- The most popular banks for business services
We’ll also look at a smart alternative to opening an account in Switzerland - a multi-currency borderless account for business from TransferWise. This digital account lets you hold your balance in any of dozens of currencies - including Swiss francs, and send and receive payments around the world using the mid-market exchange rate. This can work out to be both more flexible, and cheaper, than an account with a regular bank. More on that to come.
When you start to look for a business bank account you’ll need to find one which is designed for your type of company. The most common types of corporate entities in Switzerland are as follows:¹
- Sole proprietor
- Partnership - including simple partnership, general partnership and limited liability partnership
- Limited liability company
- Public company
Don’t forget to check the suitability of accounts for your situation, as you’re doing your research.
Switzerland is an international banking hub with a sophisticated and diverse financial services industry. There are no legal restrictions to opening a Swiss bank account as a foreign company owner, although banks must comply with Know Your Customer regulations, and make sure that the source of funds being held is legitimate. Because of the complexity of these checks - especially on clients who may not have a local credit history or address - not all banks will offer business accounts to foreign held companies.
There are many agents out there who will help business owners find a bank which will suit their needs, from among the hundreds operating in Switzerland. These agents charge a fee, but can help negotiate the relatively complex process of finding a bank which will support your application.
An alternative: the borderless account for business from TransferWise
Having an account which minimises the cost of managing your money in Switzerland, and when making cross border payments certainly makes good sense. However, it’s good to know that there are alternatives to opening an account directly with a Swiss bank.
You may be able to save the expense of agency fees, or the hassle of navigating the system yourself, by opening a TransferWise borderless account for business.
This new type of multi-currency account can be opened entirely online, and will allow you to hold over 40 currencies in the same account, including of course Swiss francs and Australian dollars. You will get your own Australian bank details to receive fee free payments from anywhere in the world, and can send and receive money globally using the mid-market exchange rate with no markup. You just pay a low transparent fee per transaction, which can work out much cheaper than using traditional banks.
You’ll need to allow adequate time to get your Swiss bank account up and running. Exactly how long it needs will depend on the bank you choose, and how quickly you can gather the documents needed. In some cases you may also have to attend a meeting either face to face or by video conferencing, before your account will be opened. Intermediary agencies claim to be able to help you open an account within about 3 weeks, although the exact length of time taken will depend entirely on your situation.²
Banks have their own standards about what documents and requirements are needed to open an account. However, all have to comply with the local legislation, which means that at the very least you’ll need to prove your identity with a government issued ID document, as well as providing full personal information for yourself and any other business owners.
To assess your suitability for an account, banks will also ask about your business, including:
- Your business registration details including contact information
- The type and nature of your business
- How you intend to use your account - how many transactions you’ll make, your likely account balance and so on
- The future plans for your business, including intentions to grow or sell the company
There are no legal barriers to opening a business bank account in Switzerland as a non resident company owner. However, many banks choose to comply with their legal duties to check the identity of their customers, by requiring a face to face meeting. This may make it more complicated to get an account opened without being personally in the country.
One solution is to see if your current bank has an operation in Switzerland, or if they have any banking partners there. If this is the case, you may be able to get an account opened on the recommendation of your current bank, which can reduce the burden of background checking. Many major international banks, including Barclays, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Citibank are present in Switzerland. If your main business bank here in Australia is represented in Switzerland, it may make the process of getting an account all the more simple.
If you absolutely can not travel to Switzerland to get your business bank account opened, you might be best off choosing to work with an agency which can represent your interests and liaise with a bank on your behalf. Depending on the size and type of business you have, bank representatives may be prepared to arrange a consultation via video conferencing or even fly to meet you face to face. However, an agent will be well placed to advise you on the likelihood of this happening based on your personal circumstances.
It’s worth checking early on in the process, what the minimum deposit amounts are for the accounts you may be eligible for. Banks are more likely to be willing to be flexible about their account opening processes if you are prepared to deposit a large sum, or are planning on moving a high turnover business into the country. If you have a smaller enterprise or simply can’t get an account set up in a way that’s convenient to you, you may want to look at alternatives such as the TransferWise multi-currency borderless account for business.
Switzerland is home to hundreds of banks. However it is also known for its discretion, and privacy around banking is paramount. In many cases, in order to understand the products and services available, you’ll need to approach the bank directly or via an agent. Account products may not be fully detailed online, as banks prefer to talk to customers first to understand their situation before offering an account.
To give you a start on your research, here are some of the largest retail banks in Switzerland offering business accounts:
- Credit Suisse
- CIM banque
- One of Switzerland’s largest banks with 279 branches in the country
- Start up bank accounts are fee free for the first year
- Business accounts on offer in a range of global currencies
- CHF20/quarter management fee for a basic business current account
- Identified as one of the world’s most important banks, and among Fortune Magazine’s most admired companies
- Start up accounts at CHF5/month, with fees waived for a year
- Loans and working finance options available
- Large range of business focused products for all types and sizes of company
- Some accounts can be opened online, using a video conference solution
- Full range of business account and currency services
- Mobile banking options for convenience
As you would expect, there will be fees to pay to operate your Swiss business bank account. It’s common to find account maintenance fees, which can vary according to the account type you choose. These fees are often waived for new customers for a year, so shopping around might get you a better deal when you first start out.
You’ll also find transaction fees, which may not be structured in the same way as with your local bank in Australia. For this reason it’s important to read the small print carefully, and also think about how you intend to use the account and which type of transactions you’ll make frequently.
For example, if you need to send money from Switzerland to your local home account, you’ll be making a lot of cross border payments. These can be relatively expensive and slow when placed with traditional banks. You could find that there’s a high admin charge as well as a markup on the exchange rate. Instead of using your regular bank for these payments, you may be better off choosing a currency expert like TransferWise. TransferWise don’t add a markup to the exchange rate used, and there’s just a low transparent fee to pay. This can work out to be a good value option compared to traditional banks.
As a business owner you have a lot to think about. Getting the right partners on side is essential when working globally, so you’ll want a simple and smart way to manage your money no matter which currency it’s held in. Do some research before you choose your business account, including local Swiss banks and alternatives like Transferwise for business, to make sure you get the very best account to support your business - now and as it grows.
All sources accurate as of 23 July 2019
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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