Swiss bank La Roche closes HK unit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 October, 2011, 12:00am
 

La Roche & Co Banquiers, the 224-year-old Swiss private bank, has shuttered its Hong Kong office.

'The anticipated synergies between the bank in Switzerland and the company in Hong Kong have not materialised,' said Mathis Buettiker, a partner at La Roche.

Swiss banks are losing some of their cachet in Asia. Long considered fortresses of secrecy, they have come under immense pressure to increase transparency.

Switzerland's UBS has just lost its position as the Asia-Pacific's biggest provider of wealth management services to Citigroup, according to a survey by Private Banker International.

The US Internal Revenue Service has also zeroed in on Swiss banks in Hong Kong. UBS paid the US government US$780 million to settle charges of helping American clients evade taxes in early 2009. Hong Kong shell companies or bank accounts were involved in more than half the tax evasion cases against American UBS clients made public.

Buettiker said La Roche had 'never pursued an American client base'.

But following the UBS case, other countries are forcing Swiss banks to open their books, which may have unsettled wealthy Asians who were previously attracted to these institutions' long-held reputations for guaranteed secrecy.

In August, the British government won a deal to charge a 39 per cent levy on previously undeclared British deposits in Swiss accounts. Germany has struck a similar agreement.

'If people think some countries' banks are more scrutinised than others, they may prefer not to go to banks that they perceive as heavily scrutinised,' Baker & Mackenzie principal Edmund Leow said.

Six La Roche officers who were licensed with the Securities and Futures Commission deregistered yesterday. That information first appeared on activist investor David Webb's webb-site.com.

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