HSBC Holdings's Geneva private bank is no longer a place where wealthy people go to hide untaxed assets, according to Franco Morra, chief executive officer for HSBC in Switzerland.
"Today, a new client in the first meeting will tell you he is tax compliant and even bring the files with him," Mr Morra (47) said at a press conference hosted by the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland in Zurich yesterday. "I think the mentality has changed a lot."
HSBC apologised in February after reports dubbed 'Swiss leaks' said the bank's Swiss unit harbored the cash of tax dodgers, drug cartels and arms dealers. While the unit remains the subject of a money laundering probe in Geneva and a criminal tax investigation in the US, HSBC has said it overhauled compliance and risk controls since it discovered a data theft by former information technology worker Herve Falciani in 2008. The account data, stolen between 2006 and 2007, was later shared with tax authorities around the world.
Cross-border private banking today is about providing clients with a "super service," preserving wealth and planning for the future, according to Mr Morra, who joined HSBC in 2010 after serving as Swiss CEO of UBS Group, the country's largest bank. Switzerland has a quarter of the world's cross- border private banking assets and is the preeminent centre for private banking expertise, he said.
Switzerland has tried to shake off its reputation a tax haven by co-operating with other governments trying to recoup undeclared assets. The government says it plans to share foreign clients' account data with other governments by 2018 as part of a new international system designed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.