Banks and securities firms

Legislation on banks and securities firms provides for various types of licences, each with its own conditions.
Banks and securities firms, as well as branches and representative offices of foreign banks and securities firms, must be licensed by FINMA. The legislation on banks and securities firms sets out requirements with varying levels of rigour for the different types of licences.

Banks

Any business that involves accepting deposits from the public on a professional basis or publicly advertising such activity requires a banking licence. Anyone offering financing of any kind on their own account to an indeterminate number of individuals or companies that are not part of the same economic unit as themselves and refinancing their business to a considerable extent with a number of independent banks also needs a banking licence. However, the Banking Ordinance provides for a number of exceptions to the ban on accepting deposits from the public on a professional basis.


Since 1 January 2019, companies which accept public deposits of up to CHF 100 million on a professional basis or solicit such deposits and neither invest nor pay interest on these public deposits have no longer been defined as banks. A FinTech licence with less stringent requirements is available for such institutions.

In principle, anyone who does not hold a banking licence is not allowed to accept deposits from the public on a professional basis. Any independent activity geared to generating regular income is deemed to be conducted on a professional basis; the assumption is automatic if more than 20 clients are involved. Anyone who accepts public deposits up to one million francs is not deemed to be acting professionally, however, provided that they do not operate in the interest rate differential business (sandbox). The investors must be informed in advance that the sandbox is not supervised by FINMA and that the deposits are not protected.

Securities firms

The Financial Institutions Act states that a licence is required for various forms of securities trading. The activities of dealers trading either on their own behalf or on behalf of a client, market makers as well as issuing houses and derivatives firms require a licence.

Branches and representative offices

A branch licence is required by any foreign bank or securities firm employing staff in Switzerland who permanently carry out transactions, trade securities or manage client accounts on its behalf in or from Switzerland on a professional basis that give rise to legal obligations.

A representative office licence is required by any foreign bank or securities firm employing staff in Switzerland who permanently represent it in or from Switzerland on a professional basis for advertising or other purposes, in particular forwarding client orders to it. Representative offices do not carry out transactions, trade securities, manage client accounts that give rise to legal obligations for foreign banks or securities firms in or from Switzerland.

FINMA’s licensing activities

FINMA’s tasks in connection with licensing processes are:

FINMA takes appropriate measures – up to and including liquidation – against companies and individuals operating without the requisite licence to restore compliance with the law.

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