The online magazine of the Swiss Bankers Association
September 24, 2015


Publication of dormant assets in December 2015

Publication of dormant assets in December 2015

This year, the banks will have to publish information on their dormant assets for the first time. Affected are accounts, securities accounts and safe-deposit boxes for which the last contact with the customer was 60 or more years ago. The prerequisite for publication is that the value per bank and customer either exceeds CHF 500 or is unknown.

The new Guidelines on the treatment of assets without contact and dormant assets held at Swiss banks came into force at the beginning of 2015 together with new provisions in the Banking Act and the Banking Ordinance. The guidelines stipulate that banks must publish their dormant assets at least once every year if the last contact with the customer was 60 or more years ago and the value of the assets per bank and customer exceeds CHF 500. A public internet platform is currently being created where this information is to be published for the first time in December 2015.  

Which information will be published?

If a bank is unable to re-establish contact that has been lost with a customer for ten years, the customer relationship is deemed dormant. After a further 50 years – therefore 60 years after last contact – the customer information must be published if the value of the assets of a customer exceed CHF 500 or are unknown. Unknown asset values arise in particular in the case of safe-deposit boxes.

The information published on the internet site (where available) is the last name, first name, date of birth, nationality and last known address, as well as the date and duration of the publication. The same applies to dormant accounts belonging to companies and other legal persons – without first name or date of birth. In exceptional cases, if the available information is not sufficient to legitimise a claim, the bank can publish the account or savings book number known to the customer. The name of the bank and the value of the assets are not published.

Once the information has been published, legitimate claimants have one year to establish contact. If the last customer contact took place prior to 1955, the given time frame is five years instead of one year. A claim application pertaining to an account is submitted by means of an online form found on the internet platform, which is then forwarded directly to the bank in question for processing. The Swiss Banking Ombudsman is the point of contact for any further queries on behalf of claimants.

Transfer of assets to the federal government if no contact is made by a legitimate claimant

Two years after the deadline has lapsed without contact, or once it has been determined that the claims made are not legitimate, the assets are to be liquidated. In addition to cash, accounts may also contain securities, which must first be sold. In the case of safe-deposit boxes, which are opened, the actual value of the contents is often not known, and they are sold after publication. The proceeds from the liquidation of all published assets must be transferred by the bank to the Federal Finance Administration. Once this has been completed, the customer forfeits any rights to these assets. Assets with a value of maximum CHF 500 are transferred without prior publication.

Searches already possible through the Banking Ombudsman

Customers with knowledge of assets that are potentially without contact or dormant assets to which he or she is entitled, should contact the bank in question.

A search can be conducted at any time
once assets have become without contact.

In cases where the name of the bank is unknown, it has been possible since 1996 to conduct a search with the help of the Swiss Banking Ombudsman. A search can be conducted at any time once assets have become without contact – it is not necessary for the 60 years to have passed. It should be noted, however, that such a search requires documents that substantiate entitlement to the assets. Because the assets, which are listed in the centralised database, are subject to bank-client confidentiality, a query may only be made by the Banking Ombudsman and only if there is proof of entitlement. This ensures that only those individuals who are in fact entitled to the assets, receive the assets in question. If assets are found, the Banking Ombudsman contacts the affected bank, which conducts a final verification of the legitimacy of the claimant, and the contact between the bank and the client is thus re-established. According to the Banking Ombudsman, the banks were able to identify almost 360 dormant customer relationships between 2001 and 2014 using these means, and were able to transfer assets valued at around 52 million francs as well as the content of 42 safe-deposit boxes to their legal owners.

A summary of the information available on this topic can be found here.