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[GENEVA] Switzerland's banks may be forced to move operations outside the country to serve European Union clients amid uncertainty over rules that give lenders access to the bloc, according to Patrick Odier, chairman of the Swiss Bankers Association.
A "substantial part" of bank operations may move unless Switzerland can facilitate better market access with individual countries in the 28-nation bloc, Odier said, in a copy of a speech in Zurich on Thursday. An accord with Germany struck in July is a model for other countries and an EU-wide market access agreement isn't expected "in the near future," Mr Odier said.
"The banking sector is seeing itself marginalized and even risks being excluded from the large European market," Mr Odier said.
Negotiations between the EU and Switzerland to allow each other greater access to their financial markets have stalled since Swiss voters in February 2014 backed a referendum to restore quotas for immigration from EU countries. In a worst- case scenario, curbing free movement of EU workers to Switzerland could nullify trade arrangements between the EU and Switzerland, effectively banning Swiss banks from serving clients from their home turf.
Swiss banks aren't allowed to solicit or call EU clients from Switzerland, which isn't a member of the union. They need to serve them locally in their country of residence, or via a hub in another EU jurisdiction, or ask clients to visit them in Switzerland.
Prosecutors and tax inspectors in countries such as France, Belgium, Germany and the UK have increased scrutiny of Swiss cross-border business in recent years after whistle-blowers turned over data to governments and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers admitted stashing undeclared cash in banks in Geneva and Zurich.