Representative offices of foreign banks

Representative offices of foreign banks and securities dealers 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 represent it for advertising or other purposes in or from Switzerland, including in particular forwarding client orders to it, but do not carry out transactions or manage client accounts for the foreign bank that give rise to legal obligations.

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 conducts banking business 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 representative office, there must be no doubt that the applicant and the representative office meet or can meet all of the licensing requirements. The most important are:

  • The foreign bank must be subject to appropriate supervision

  • The responsible foreign supervisory authorities must not have raised any objections to the opening of a representative office.

  • Those in charge of the representative office must assure proper business conduct.

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

Duration of the licensing process

The licensing process for a representative office of a foreign bank normally takes about three 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.

Representative offices of foreign banks are not subject to prudential supervision. However, they must submit an annual report for the foreign bank they represent to FINMA within four months after the financial year ends.

Contact for questions on the licensing process

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