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Financial Center » Bank groups

Banking groups

Bankengruppen
In addition to numerous other qualities, the banking sector in Switzerland distinguishes itself through its diversity and heterogeneity. Over time, very different banking groups have developed and to some extent become specialised.

The model "Swiss universal bank"
The Swiss banking system is based on the model of universal banking. This means that all banks can provide all banking services, such as:

  • credit/lending business
  • deposits and deposit business (savings accounts, etc.)
  • asset management and investment advice
  • payment transactions
  • securities business (stock exchange transactions)
  • underwriting business (issuing bonds or shares)
  • financial analysis

Banks that are active in Switzerland can be divided into the following banking groups.

Big banks
The big banks offer essentially every type of transaction, particularly investment banking (capital market transactions, trade with securities, performance of money market transactions, financial engineering, securitised lending transactions as well as consulting in and conducting mergers and acquisitions). A strong international focus and business network is a characteristic shared by the big banks. The group of big banks includes Credit Suisse Group and UBS AG. Both big banks have branches and subsidiaries in more than 50 countries and are present in all major financial centres around the world. Together, the two big banks account for over 50% of the balance sheet total of all banks in Switzerland.

Cantonal banks
Cantonal banks are defined as banks with a statutory basis under cantonal law, with the canton holding a minimum of one-third of the bank’s capital and voting rights. With the revised Banking Law of 1st October 1999, the state guarantee is no longer a constitutive characteristic of cantonal banks. The Canton of Bern will be the first canton to abolish this at the end of 2012. All other cantonal banks continue to benefit from unrestricted state guarantee, with the exception of Banque Cantonale Vaudoise and Banque Cantonale de Genève, of which the former had no state guarantee at all and the latter a limited state guarantee even prior to the Banking Law revision.

As at the end of 2010, the cantonal banks’ total assets ranged from below CHF 2 billion to more than CHF 120 billion. The smaller cantonal banks concentrate on savings and mortgage business, while the larger ones offer a wide range of services and can be described as typical universal banks. The Association of Swiss Cantonal Banks (ASCB) represents the joint interests of cantonal banks.

Private banks
The 13 private banks are among the oldest banks in Switzerland and consist of individual enterprises, collective and limited partnerships. Private bankers are subject to unlimited subsidiary liability with their personal assets. Their most important field of activity is asset management, primarily for private customers. If they do not publicly solicit deposits from third parties, private bankers are not required to build statutory reserves or publish annual financial statements. However, they are subject to all other provisions of SBL, in particular requirements in respect of equity capital. Private bankers have been associated in the Swiss Private Bankers Association (SPBA) since 1934.

Regional and saving banks
The banks in this group concentrate primarily on the traditional interest business, with mortgage loans and loans to businesses on the one hand and customer funds in the form of savings and investments on the other. These banks voluntarily restrict their activities to one region. Their advantage is customer proximity; they are acquainted with local circumstances and with regional business cycles.

At the end of 2010, 41 of the 75 regional and savings banks were part of the RBA group. RBA banks are independent institutions that co-operate with each other through the RBA Holding. This co-operation enables them to improve their cost structure, promotes professional expertise and affords a joint safety net and solidarity network.

The RBA group includes the Valiant banks and Clientis banks. Along with their joint services and competence centre Clientis AG, the 20 Clientis banks form a contractual group and mutually co-ordinate their activities, notably in the areas of joint refinancing, group-wide processing, consistent branding and decentralised distribution.

Another approx. 30 regional banks, including four of the five largest regional banks in Switzerland, do not form part of the RBA Holding. Some of them have been acquired by other financial groups over time and are managed as independent business areas within those groups.

Raiffeisen banks
Raiffeisen banks are the only group of banks structured as co-operatives. They are associated in the Raiffeisen Switzerland co-operative. In mid-2011, the Raiffeisen Group consisted of 328 independent, regionally rooted co-operative banks with a history that goes back more than a century.

The Raiffeisen banks concentrate on the traditional interest business, with mortgage loans and loans to businesses on the one hand and customer funds in the form of savings and investments on the other. The individual Raiffeisen banks are primarily active regionally, but together they form a nationwide group. Raiffeisen Switzerland assumes the strategic management function for the entire Raiffeisen Group and is responsible for the group-wide risk diversification, liquidity and equity holding and refinancing. Furthermore, it co-ordinates group activities, creates favourable business conditions for the regional Raiffeisen banks and provides general consulting services and support to its members. Raiffeisen Switzerland also assumes the role of a central bank in providing treasury, trading and transaction services.

Banks that specialise in stock exchange, securities and asset management business
This group of banks primarily comprises public limited companies set up under private law and governed in Switzerland. They concentrate chiefly on asset management for domestic and foreign clients. With only a few exceptions, these institutions, together with other individual banks, are members of the Association of Swiss Commercial and Investment Banks.

Other Banks
Banks falling into this category are individual banks that do not share particular characteristics. In particular, these include institutions specialised in small loans, instalment business and consumer financing.