SNB ‘will not bail out troubled Swiss banks’

Switzerland's central bank has no mission to save troubled banks, its president told local media on Sunday, as a string of the country's financial institutions face potentially massive penalties to appease American concerns about tax evasion.

SNB 'will not bail out troubled Swiss banks'
Central bank chairman, Thomas Jordan. Photo: SNB

Earlier this week, the country accepted a demand from the United States to enable Swiss banks to circumvent some elements of secrecy laws and turn over key information to US authorities.

Washington has repeatedly accused Swiss banks of complicity in tax evasion, since they hold billions of dollars belonging to American citizens accused of hiding away taxable income from the US revenue service.

The details of the sum the banks will have to pay US authorities in order to win legal closure is not yet known, but Swiss media have reported that the overall figure could hit ten billion Swiss francs ($10.5 billion).

"The (Swiss) National Bank does not have as a task to save banks when they go insolvent," Thomas Jordan, chairman of the central bank, was quoted as saying in an interview with the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper.

He said, however, that the bank's mandate is to contribute to the stability of the country's financial system.

A bill on the deal will be put to parliament later this month and the implementation of its provisions will be limited to one year.

With the global economic crisis having put tax havens into sharp focus, Switzerland has fought to defend its long-cherished principle of banking secrecy by giving ground in some areas but declining to allow the automatic handover of account details.

The government said that while the names of US clients can be handed over automatically, their account details can only be disclosed if Washington makes a specific request under rules related to the pursuit of tax dodgers.

Previous reports have said the 300 banks in Switzerland would be ranked by their level of alleged complicity in tax evasion.

The dozen seen as the main offenders would reportedly be forced to make individual deals, while a second category, comprising those with American clients but which have not yet faced legal action in the United States, would have to pay a set fine.
Citing unnamed sources, the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper 
on Sunday said the Swiss banks that need to make individual deals will have a time limit of 120 days to do so.
It did not say when the clock would start ticking on such negotiations

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Why is the demand for 1,000-franc banknotes growing in Switzerland?

Large-denomination banknotes, like the 1,000-franc note, are rarely used for everyday transactions in Switzerland. So why are they becoming more popular?

Why is the demand for 1,000-franc banknotes growing in Switzerland?
The kind of banknotes the Swiss like to stash away. Photo by AFP

The demand for 1,000-franc notes has risen in the past months, data from the Swiss National Bank (SNB) indicates.

CHF1,000 converts to approximately €925.75, £824,63 or $US1126.98. 

Whether withdrawing the money from an ATM machine or directly from a bank, customers request large-bill denominations more often than before.

“We do know there is more cash being currently withdrawn in large notes, but it changes hands less often” Sarah Lein, a monetary policy expert from the University of Basel told SRF public broadcaster.

This means the money is not being spent but stashed away.

“We can conclude that some large notes end up in a safe”, she added.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s economy forecast to recover 'from summer onwards' 

The reason, she said, is that many banks charge their customers negative interests on large deposits.

“Therefore, it could be cheaper to simply withdraw the cash in large notes and keep it in a safe, especially since inflation has been extremely low for a long time”, Lein added.

This is not unusual — in times of crisis, more cash is often in demand.

But could this cause the shortage of 1,000-franc bills?

That is not likely to happen, Lein pointed out.

“Both the central and commercial banks have enough cash stored in their vaults to meet such demand. So there is always enough money available”, she said.

There is about 48.6 billion francs floating around in the form of 1,000-franc notes, constituting 59 percent of all Swiss notes in circulation. 

It is the world’s second-largest denomination after Brunei's B$10,000 note.

READ MORE: What do people in Switzerland spend their money on?