Branches of foreign banks

Branches of foreign banks must meet a number of licensing requirements to obtain authorisation from FINMA.

A foreign bank needs to be authorised by FINMA if it employs staff in Switzerland who, on a professional basis, permanently carry out transactions or manage client accounts on its behalf in or from Switzerland that give rise to legal obligations.

Definition

Any company organised under foreign law that either holds a banking licence abroad, uses the term "bank" or "Banking" in its name, the description of its purpose or its business documentation, or engages in banking activities as defined in Article 2a of the Banking Ordinance is considered as a foreign bank.

Licensing requirements

For a foreign bank to obtain a licence to open a branch, there must be no doubt that the applicant and the branch meet or can meet all of the licensing requirements.

The most important are:

  • The foreign bank’s qualified participants and the branch’s executive management must assure proper business conduct.

  • The foreign bank must 1) be subject to appropriate supervision that includes the branch, 2) be adequately organised, 3) have sufficient finances and qualified staff to operate a branch in Switzerland, and 4) prove that the branch can be entered into the Commercial Register.

  • The responsible foreign supervisory authorities must 1) raise no objections to the opening of a branch, 2) undertake to inform FINMA without delay if circumstances arise that could be severely detrimental to creditors’ interests, and 3) be in a position to cooperate with FINMA.

  • The country of domicile of the foreign bank and all qualified participants must guarantee reciprocal rights.

  • The branch must have regulations precisely describing its business and an organisation that is compatible with its operations.

  • FINMA can demand financial security from the branch (endowment capital, guarantees, assets in Switzerland, etc.).

  • Appointment of a recognised audit firm for the licensing process.

  • Appointment of a recognised regulatory audit firm for ongoing supervision.

  • If the foreign bank forms part of a group active in the financial sector, FINMA can make the licence contingent on the group subject to appropriate consolidated supervision by foreign supervisory authorities.

Duration of the licensing process

The licensing process for a branch of a foreign bank normally takes about six months, but the duration depends on the quality and complexity of the application. The time it takes to receive a response from the responsible foreign supervisory authorities must also be taken into account.

Branches of foreign banks are subject to prudential supervision by FINMA.

Contact for questions on the licensing process

The Authorisation section of the Banks division (authorization@finma.ch)