Branches of foreign banks

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

Definition of a foreign bank

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 1a of the Banking Act 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 all of the licensing requirements are met or can be met.
The most important are:

  • Guarantee of irreproachable business activity by the foreign bank’s qualified participants and the branch’s executive management;
  • Appropriate supervision that includes the branch;
  • Adequate organisation of the foreign bank;
  • Sufficient finances and qualified staff to operate a branch in Switzerland;
  • Proof that the branch can be entered into the Commercial Register;
  • No objections by the responsible foreign supervisory authorities to the opening of a branch;
  • Undertaking by the responsible foreign supervisory authorities to inform FINMA without delay if circumstances arise that could be severely detrimental to creditors’ interests;
  • Ability of the responsible foreign supervisory authority to provide administrative assistance;
  • Guarantee of reciprocal rights by the country of domicile of the foreign bank and all qualified participants;
  • Regulations precisely describing the branch's business and an organisation that is compatible with its operations;
  • If necessary, 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: appropriate consolidated supervision of the group by foreign supervisory authorities.

Duration of the licensing process

The licensing process for a branch of a foreign bank takes place in constant dialogue with the applicants. The duration depends on the quality and complexity of the application and the current workload. The time it takes to receive a response from the responsible foreign supervisory authorities must also be taken into account.

Contact for questions on the licensing process

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

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