The Federal Council recently released a comprehensive report on the inclusion of blockchain technology within the Swiss legal framework – in particular, the Swiss banking regulations. With this comprehensive report, the Swiss government has confirmed its established approach of applying Switzerland's existing and principle-based laws in a technology-neutral way. However, it also acknowledges that the existing legal framework will require punctual amendments to solve specific issues.
From 1 January 2019 companies that operate beyond the core activities characteristic for banks will be able to accept public funds of up to Sfr100 million on a professional basis subject to simplified requirements. During its recent meeting, the Federal Council set into force an amendment to the Banking Act to promote innovation in the fintech area and to remove barriers to market entry for fintech firms.
Parliament recently passed the bills of the new Financial Services Act and Financial Institution Act. These laws will have a significant impact on the Swiss banking and financial market landscape, as well as the applicable rules for providing banking and financial services both within and on a cross-border basis into Switzerland. This article provides a short overview of the new concept of 'client advisers' and the foreseeable implications of the new rules for banks and other financial service providers.
The Swiss Bankers Association recently published new guidelines for its member banks, including recommendations on how to treat and onboard blockchain companies for ordinary corporate bank accounts. As Switzerland has strict laws and due diligence requirements in place governing financial transactions, banks must carry out careful checks when opening an account, particularly for companies with links to blockchain and initial coin offerings.
Swiss authorities are building a financial regulatory regime which considers the most important recommendations from the Financial Action Task Force's mutual evaluation report on Switzerland. To this end, the Federal Council has initiated a consultation on amendments to the Anti-money Laundering Act and the Swiss Banking Association has published its revised agreement on Swiss banks' code of conduct regarding the exercise of due diligence.
The European Parliament and the European Council recently expanded the scope of the EU anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism regulations to cover cryptocurrencies and virtual currencies. While the directive will not apply directly to Switzerland, Swiss financial regulators remain ahead of the curve. Since 2016, the Financial Market Supervisory Authority has widened the scope of certain banking regulations relating to money transmitting and remitting services to cover virtual currencies.
The SIX Swiss Exchange recently announced that it is building a fully end-to-end and fully integrated trading, settlement and custody infrastructure for digital assets. The planned 'digital asset ecosystem' – the SIX Digital Exchange (SDX) – will put banks at the heart of transactions in the digital space and offer them a solid foundation to pursue their business strategies for digital and tokenised assets; however, their role in the future SDX remain unclear.
The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) recently published a supervisory notification on token sales and initial coin offerings (ICOs). It also announced that it was examining whether several ICOs or their corresponding business models violate supervisory provisions. A FINMA press release cited the marked increase in ICOs carried out in Switzerland in recent months as a reason for its action.
The revised Banking Ordinance of April 30 2014 regarding new financial technology (fintech) regulations recently entered into force. The purpose of the proposed revisions is to enhance the competitiveness of Switzerland as a major fintech hub and to create an appropriate regulatory framework for fintech companies providing services outside traditional banking business by taking into account the specific risk-profile of their business models and service offering.
The Federal Council recently adopted an amendment to the Banking Ordinance scheduled to enter into force on August 1 2017. Following the announcement of the revised rules, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority published a guidance note regarding the new rules on public deposits. The revision will reduce some of the barriers to market entry for financial technology firms.
The Federal Council recently announced its intention to strengthen the existing deposit protection scheme through a series of different measures. The council also intends to strengthen the regulations on the protection of securities and other assets deposited by clients with a bank or securities dealer by introducing a new obligation to keep those assets segregated from other clients' assets on a sub-custodian level, to the extent that the chain of custody is in Switzerland.
The Federal Council recently initiated a consultation procedure on new financial technology (fintech) regulations. The revised provisions ensure that barriers to market entry for fintech firms are reduced and that Switzerland's competitiveness as a financial centre is maintained. The consultation will end on May 8 2017. The proposed amendments to the Banking Act and the Banking Ordinance aim to ease the regulatory framework for innovative fintech companies, while taking into account potential risks.
The Appellate Court of the Canton of Geneva recently rendered three decisions ordering a bank to execute the clients' transfer and payment instructions. The latest decision leaves the door open for banks to argue that the legislation of the state where taxes ought to be paid on assets held for a foreign client's account have changed and that, as a result, they now incur the risk of criminal charges which would prevail over their obligation to execute their clients' payment or transfer instructions.
The Supreme Court recently upheld a bank's liability for damages caused to its client by an external asset manager. While this ruling has confirmed settled case law in considering that a bank is in principle not liable for the wrongdoing of an external asset manager, it also clarifies under which conditions a bank may have a duty of disclosure regarding its clients. It appears that banks must ensure a complete transmission to the client of all information that they possess.
When the Financial Market Infrastructure Act and the Financial Market Infrastructure Ordinance came into effect, specific transitional periods were granted to fulfil new duties, as well extended record-keeping duties for banks as participants on trading venues regarding securities transactions. As organised facilities that are not subject to authorisation may be operated only by banks, securities dealers, stock exchanges or multilateral trading venues, these changes will affect banks significantly.
According to the Banking Act, several financial technology business models carry out some sort of banking business where a full banking licence would be too expensive and would not reflect the business model properly. As a result, the Financial Market Supervisory Authority supports a new licensing category for financial innovators carrying out some banking activities, but with limited acceptance of client assets and no lending activity.
According to the Federal Act on the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), if FINMA detects a serious violation of supervisory provisions it may prohibit the individual responsible from acting in a management capacity over any person or entity subject to its supervision. FINMA has announced that it will use enforcement action as a visible means of achieving its supervisory objectives.
The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority recently issued a factsheet on crowdfunding, in which it examined when crowdfunding platform operators and project developers must obtain a licence before commencing activities. It has also proposed to introduce into law a new category of banking licence that will formally place crowdfunding platform operators under its supervision while alleviating constraints.
A recent amendment to the Federal Act on Banks and Saving Banks has increased criminal liability for the violation of banking secrecy. Previously, although the theft, sale or transfer of bank data was prohibited, third parties benefiting from stolen data were not penalised. Under the amended act, intentional disclosure of data covered by banking secrecy will be subject to a penalty of up to three years' imprisonment or a monetary fine.
The federal government has published the results of the consultation on the Financial Services Act and the Financial Institutions Act. It instructed the Federal Department of Finance to carry out various adjustments regarding enforcement and draw up a dispatch by the end of the year. It has also taken initial decisions on the direction to be taken regarding the controversial topics in the consultation procedure.