Representative offices of foreign banks

Representative offices 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 represent the foreign bank 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. 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.

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 conducts banking business 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 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:

  • Appropriate supervision of the foreign bank;
  • No objections by the responsible foreign supervisory authorities to the opening of a representative office;
  • Guarantee of reciprocal rights by the country of domicile of the foreign bank and all qualified participants;
  • Guarantee of irreproachable business activity by those in charge of the representative office.

Duration of the licensing process

The licensing process for a representative office of a foreign bank takes place in constant dialogue with the applicants. The duration depends on the quality and complexity of the application as well as 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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