This content is from: Local Insights

Switzerland

Electronic banking is becoming more and more fashionable in Switzerland. A great number of established banks now also offer their services on the internet. And so far five banks have been licensed to do exclusively e-banking. The Federal Banking Commission takes a liberal approach to this new form of banking. This supervisory authority considers the availability of e-banking in existing banks as a mere extension of sales channels which is not subject to an additional permit and must not even be notified to the FBC.

As for e-banks in the strict sense of the word, ie banks which offer their services exclusively in electronic form, there are no specific licensing requirements. The conditions set out in the Federal Banking Act for the establishment of banks in general are applied without distinction to the establishment of e-banks.

Certain aspects, however, deserve special attention. Foremost is the strict adherence to the "know your customer rule". In this context compliance with the code of conduct with regard to the exercise of due diligence (CDB 98) becomes of importance. The opening of a banking relationship will have to be done in the traditional way, either by the client being present or by traditional mail. The necessary account opening forms required by the CDB 98 and the legal forms customary in banking relations can only be validly executed in this way. This may change when the new law instituting an electronic signature becomes effective.

No specific legal problems arise with respect to banking secrecy. This is purely a question of information technology which, however, must be addressed with great care and will be subject to special scrutiny by the bank's auditors. The same is true for the possible outsourcing of IT services in e-banks. The existing legislation is adequate and sufficient to cover all the specifics in this regard for e-banking.

There are obviously certain legal risks inherent in e-banking. The banks offering their services and particularly certain investments on the internet may be open to all sorts of claims by the general public. Therefore, a prudent selection and wording of the internet information and the inclusion of adequate disclaimers is of great importance. In fact some Swiss banks have included lengthy and elaborate disclaimers on their websites.

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