SwissBanking
Das Online-Magazin der Schweizerischen Bankiervereinigung
17. Dezember 2015

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How do clients retrieve dormant assets?

How do clients retrieve dormant assets?

Assets that clients have forgotten about can be retrieved from Swiss banks at any time. However, the assets are transferred to the federal government if no beneficiary has been found after 60 years.

10 years at the latest without any contact with the client, all banks add the accounts in question to a central database. Since the start of 2015, Switzerland applies clear rules specifically on dealing with dormant assets that are more than 60 years old and worth over CHF 500. Under the new regulations, assets that fulfil these criteria are published by banks at https://www.dormantaccounts.ch. This website went live on 16 December 2015.

The publication of https://www.dormantaccounts.ch raised great interest amongst national and international media – and nearly no journalist who contacted the SBA forgot to mention that he or she had already had a look at the website to check whether the own name or the one of a relative figures in the list. With media coverage from all over the world – for example from India, France, the US and of course Switzerland - the chances to find owners or legitimate clients of dormant accounts increase.

Up to 59 years without contact: the Banking Ombudsman can help

Clients ought to know that they do not have to wait for 60 years before they can search for assets. The Swiss Banking Ombudsman can help trace assets from the time when contact was last made to 59 years later. Using an online enquiry form, the Ombudsman can search a central database for dormant assets that are as yet not to be published.

Database searches are only possible at the request of a legitimate claimant who provides proof of entitlement. Bank-client confidentiality is maintained for such client relationships. If the Banking Ombudsman finds the assets at the claimant´s request, the Ombudsman forwards the request to the bank where the account, custody account or safe-deposit box is held. The bank ultimately decides whether the claimant actually is the beneficiary of the assets after having verified the information.

Database for the publication of assets

Sometimes, it is not possible to re-establish contact with the client for decades. Before the rights to an asset finally become null and void, dormant assets that meet the relevant criteria are published at https://www.dormantaccounts.ch. The website enables anyone to verify whether they have a legitimate claim to a published asset. Requests are submitted via an online form that is sent electronically with the necessary proof to the bank in question, which then checks the claim.

Bank-client confidentiality no longer applies to assets once they are published at https://www.dormantaccounts.ch. The legislator waived this in the interest of clients, as publication on the website offers the widest exposure and therefore the greatest chance of finding the legitimate owner of the assets. If no owner is found after one year of publication (for assets with the last client contact in 1954 or earlier: five years), the banks are obliged by law to deliver the assets to the Federal Finance Administration. This means that clients are no longer able to claim such assets.

No bank wants assets to be forgotten by clients. Banks are therefore informing clients how to avoid assets becoming dormant, for example through a short film and an information leaflet.

What happens with dormant assets in Switzerland?