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FINMA's independence essential to effective supervision

FINMA Annual Media Conference

Key topics for the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA in 2011 were improving client protection, the new rules for systemically important institutions and the further development of its own supervisory activities. With financial market stability under threat and interest rates low, FINMA significantly intensified its supervisory activities at supervised institutions in the areas concerned. FINMA's management stressed at today's Annual Media Conference the importance of the supervisory authority's independence as well as the need for a concerted quality strategy for wealth management in Switzerland.

In her speech, Prof. Anne Héritier Lachat, Chair of the FINMA Board of Directors, emphasised the fact that FINMA's functional, institutional and financial independence is in no way an end in itself: "The accomplishment of our supervisory mission hinges on our ability to decide and act with full independence and the greatest possible autonomy." She explained that FINMA is accountable to parliament and the Federal Council and that the courts have the power to verify at any time whether FINMA's decisions in individual cases comply with the law. She also said that the supervisory authority's internal governance is of central importance, with a clear division of tasks and powers between the Board of the Directors and the intentionally strong Executive Board: "The Board of Directors essentially works in the background, away from the public eye. As a counterweight to the Executive Board, however, it is a pillar of good governance," said Prof. Héritier Lachat.

Quality strategy the only possible way

FINMA CEO Dr Patrick Raaflaub explained at the media conference that the Swiss financial sector and in particular Swiss wealth management face exceptionally major challenges. For Switzerland's wealth management industry to hold on to its leading position in the international arena, he said, a quality strategy must be put into practice in three respects. Financial services providers are responsible for the quality of the services they offer, politicians have to ensure the best possible economic and regulatory operating conditions, and FINMA must for its part monitor these aspects "attentively and incorruptibly" in its day-to-day supervision work. According to Dr Raaflaub, it is the supervisory authority's job to make sure that the financial market in Switzerland functions properly and that financial market clients are protected. To this end, FINMA requires a legal framework that allows it to intervene at the right time, in the right place and with the right means. For Dr Raaflaub, therefore, regulation is not an obstacle but something that "creates the basis the Swiss financial sector needs to pursue any kind of quality strategy".

Focus on client protection, taxed assets and increased exchange of information

FINMA clearly sees much room for improvement with regard to the protection of clients and investors. "Switzerland is lagging behind a lot of countries here," said Dr Raaflaub. With this in mind, the position paper on distribution rules that FINMA published in February 2012 proposes a new “financial services act”. Where quality is concerned, FINMA is interested not just in the obvious risk issues, but also in cross-border financial services. It believes that facilitating or quietly tolerating tax evasion by foreign clients cannot be a sustainable business model. Dr Raaflaub stressed that this is why FINMA supports efforts to gear the financial sector to taxed assets and to the increased exchange of information in the supervisory and tax areas.

More rigorous enforcement by the supervisory authority

The economic environment in 2011 was dominated by the euro and sovereign debt crises, the risks attached to recession and low interest rates, and signs of the mortgage market overheating. In view of these factors and in line with its new approach of systematic and risk-oriented supervision, FINMA stepped up its monitoring of areas that were particularly at risk last year, holding many supervisory discussions in which institutions it supervises were informed about key risks, employing new forms of supervision such as the Team Intensive Supervision in the banking industry and conducting more on-site inspections of its own. It also strengthened its enforcement activities by optimising internal working processes.

Regulatory progress

FINMA also achieved progress in 2011 in the debate on systemically important institutions. At the regulatory level, its focus was on implementing the "too big to fail" measures nationally and further crystallising them as well as the new standards of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision with regard to capital adequacy, liquidity and risk diversification. FINMA additionally lobbied for increased investor protection in the partial revision of the Collective Investment Schemes Act (CISA). As part of its intensified supervisory activity, FINMA also pressed ahead with the implementation of the Swiss Solvency Test in the insurance industry, approving a number of internal models.

Annual financial statements within approved budget

FINMA's annual financial statements are within the budget approved by its Board of Directors. Net income in 2011 totalled CHF 107 million (previous year: CHF 100.3 million), of which CHF 89.5 million (previous year: CHF 84 million) came from supervision charges. Operating costs for the 2011 financial year amounted to CHF 97.1 million (previous year: CHF 91.1 million), with staff costs accounting for a higher proportion at CHF 77.9 million (previous year: CHF 70.9 million) because of planned and targeted staff recruitment. Low interest rate levels, the use of new actuarial assumptions and market-consistent valuation in accordance with IFRS caused pension fund liabilities to rise by CHF 28 million, resulting in negative equity of CHF 25.4 million (previous year: CHF 5.7 million) as at 31 December 2011. The increase in pension fund liabilities has no impact on income and will not lead to any additional charges for supervised institutions or to any asset outflows in the near future.

Contact

Tobias Lux, Media Spokesperson, phone +41 (0)31 327 91 71, tobias.lux@finma.ch