Friday, May 16, 2008

Switzerland – More than Cheese and Chocolate

If I had one pre-conception of Zurich, it would have been from all the movies… you know, where the bad guy has his crony wire the ransom payment to his Swiss account in Zurich. It turns out, that there are a number of reasons why the banks in Switzerland have gotten such a noble reputation. Sure, Switzerland has several tax advantages, but the main thing that sets the Swiss accounts apart is their high level of confidentiality, primarily due to Swiss banking laws. The simple act of opening a checking account is nothing short of the stereotypical process seen in the movies where the client is taken into a sealed room in the back of the bank and given an electronic key to open the safe. The names of most clients aren’t even known to employees.

Zurich is the “private wealth” capital of the world. Nearly most of the bankers in Zurich focus on convincing high net worth individuals ($10m+) to hand of their money for a management fee. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to visit with a few Columbia alumni working at UBS and Credit Suisse to get some inside information about the whole process. Basically, in order to be successful in PWM, you need to be good with people, know your stuff, and have an entrepreneurial drive. There are two types of wealth managers: hunters and farmers. As you’d expect, hunters bring in new clients and new money for the firm to manage and farmers are typically stewards over existing accounts.

So what should you consider if you’re thinking about working in Zurich?

Upside: low tax rate (10%), mountains and lakes within 2 minutes from the office, great transportation, very clean city, amazing chocolate, high paying jobs, reasonable rent, clean air, good hours, centrally located (1-2 hrs to anywhere in Europe), and you don’t need to speak Swiss, German, French, or Italian (the 4 official languages) to live there as nearly 90% of the population also speaks English.

Downside: very expensive (e.g. equiv. of $300-400 for shoes, $15USD for a combo meal at McD’s, etc.), small town with not much to do, really uptight laws, regulations and fees, Swiss are very nationalistic and often dislike foreigners, and finally… you might just get stuck there because you never want to leave.

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