Donnerstag, 2. April 2015

B is for Banks

As an American immigrant in Switzerland, banks are a little off limits. That wasn't the case when I first moved here in 2006, but then the financial crises struck and the US was broke and wanted to make sure that it was given its fair share. So, they decided that Americans would need to disclose their banking accounts and the Swiss bank's reactions were surprising to most.
Sure, those friends of mine who remember that I am living in Switzerland and not Sweden may associate my home with chocolate and banking (and maybe coo-coo-clocks? No spoilers, coo-coo clocks will not be covered in this month of political entries.) And any suspenseful thriller that involves large amounts of cash (and real life scandals involving evil oil companies with accounts in Zug) always reminds us that swiss bank accounts will not reveal the name of the kidnapper, terrorist, evil-doer. But I don't know that anyone expected the enthusiastic declaration that Switzerland's one true identity hinges on bank secrecy. Take that chocolate and snow sports!

Here is a short history of banking in Switzerland.
Christian and Jewish money exchangers arrived in Switzerland early in its history. Both groups still frowned on usury at the time, except if their customers were heretics (tune in for R for more of that fun stuff.)
In the 14th century, Bishop Ashemar allowed bankers to charge interest on loans.
In the 15th century, the Geneva trade fairs attract merchants and financiers to the city, who soon spread to Basel.
In the 16th century, John Calvin -in his protestant refuge - created a freedom from the catholic restrictions on usurey.
In the 18th century - this is the important bit - the Great council of Geneva bans the banks from revealing client information and thus establish banking secrecy.
In the 20th century, Switzerland's position as an essential center of banking was confirmed, with the help of the world wars and the depression. The foundation was cracked, however during the thirty years of attempts to reclaim Nazi bank accounts that were established during the Holocaust.
And now, Swiss banks refuse to give accounts to American citizens, for the sake of preserving their one true mission and I am persona non gratta in most any branch.
Perhaps my C entry will be a bit more cheerful.

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