Trustees

Anyone who acts as a trustee on a commercial basis must be licensed by FINMA. This requires them to meet various financial, personnel-related and organisational requirements.
Trustees are defined by law as persons who on a commercial basis manage or hold a separate fund for the benefit of the beneficiaries or for a specified purpose based on the instrument creating a trust. They must be licensed by FINMA as a trustee. The activity of trustees does not fall under the scope of the Financial Services Act (FinSA).

Licensing requirements

Trustees must comply with various requirements to receive a FINMA licence, including the following in particular. They must:

  • be legally classified as either a sole proprietorship, a commercial enterprise or a cooperative and entered as such in the commercial register;
  • be suitably organised with adequate risk management and internal controls;
  • have sufficient equity capital or securities;
  • describe their business activity including precise details of their operations and geographic layout in the relevant documents;
  • provide proof of affiliation to an SO, thus confirming they are supervised by a supervisory organisation.

Date of licensing

Trustees require a licence from FINMA before they commence their commercial activities.

Trustees who started their commercial activity before 1 January 2020 must apply for a licence from FINMA by the end of 2022, which includes proving that they are affiliated to an SO.

Those who started a commercial activity as a trustee in 2020 must be affiliated to an SO by 6 July 2021 and submit a licence application to FINMA.

An activity is deemed commercial if it meets one of the following criteria:

Commercial nature of activity

Only trustees who carry out their activity on a commercial basis require a licence. According to the law, trustees are deemed to pursue their activities on a commercial basis if they:

  • generate gross earnings of more than CHF 50,000 per calendar year; or
  • establish business relationships with more than 20 contractual partners per calendar year, which are not restricted to a once-only activity, or they maintain at least 20 such relationships per calendar year; or
  • in cases where the trustee does not become the owner of the assets of the trust, if the trustee has unlimited power of disposal over assets belonging to others that exceed CHF 5 million at any given time.

Certain assets linked to exemptions to licensing requirements are not to be taken into account.

Role

Trustees manage the separate fund, ensure the preservation of its value and apply it for a specific purpose. Trustees may also assume other duties, for example dispensing investment advice, performing portfolio analysis or providing financial instruments. If trustees offer financial services under the Financial Services Act (FinSA), they are also subject to the requirements of the Act.

If trustees also work as portfolio managers, they require an additional FINMA licence for this activity.

Cessation of the activity requiring a licence

If trustees wish to cease operations, they require prior approval from FINMA. The supervisory organisation will also be asked to give its opinion.

Submitting applications

The licensing process for trustees takes place via FINMA’s survey and application platform (EHP). Further details can be found on the ‘Licensing process’ page.

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