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Commentaries

We regularly publish commentaries on the latest current topics in banking and financial law. We can count on our network of authors, comprised of experts from both practice and the academic world, who analyse and give you their point of view in commentaries that are intended to be short, snappy and informal. The covered topics may range from the latest rulings of the Swiss Federal Tribunal to the opening of consultation proceedings, as well as the policy papers of the supervisory authority.

Too big to fail

A senior managers regime gaining ground in Switzerland

In its report of 10 April 2024 on bank stability, the Federal Council proposes the development of a senior managers' regime (SMR) as part of the "Too Big To Fail" (TBTF) framework. An SMR assigns specific responsibilities to the most senior managers and makes it easier for the supervisory authorities to identify those at fault. This commentary focuses on one of the 37 measures analysed by the Federal Council in its report (for a general commentary on the report, see[...]

Bank liability and money laundering

Careful proof of prior offence

In its ruling HG210122-O, the Zurich Handelsgericht rejected a company's claim for damages against a former private bank, on the grounds that no prior offence had been proven and that the bank had fulfilled its obligations in terms of combating money laundering. The company alleged that it had been defrauded by one of its suppliers in connection with a sale of fertilisers, as the products ordered never arrived. Part of the funds from this sale was transferred to a third-party[...]

FINMA's Watchlist

Limits to the right of access under the aDPA

Obtaining the relevant extracts from the database needed to assess FINMA's guarantees of irreproachable activity (formerly Watchlist) is a real crossroads for an employee who has temporarily given up exercising an activity subject to FINMA. The Federal Administrative Court (FAT) has confirmed that art. 8 aLPD (now art. 25 LPD) does not allow access to the documents that justified inclusion on the Watchlist to the same extent as in a genuine procedure on the merits to determine whether an individual[...]

Claims clause

The existence of a client instruction may remain undecided in a residual banking relationship

A recent Geneva ruling illustrates the effects of a residual bank agreement combined with a claims clause when the existence of a client instruction is disputed by the parties in a one-off investment advisory relationship (ruling ACJC/231/2024 of the Civil Division of the Geneva Court of Justice of 13 February 2024). In 2003, a company based in the British Virgin Islands opened a relationship with a Swiss bank. The bank's general terms and conditions provided to the client contained a[...]

Bank stability

Federal Council report impressive but still too vague

Since the adoption of the too-big-to-fail regime in 2011, article 52 BL stipulates that the Federal Council must examine the provisions of articles 7 to 14b BL three years after the system comes into force and then every two years, compare them with the corresponding international standards abroad and report back to the Federal Assembly, if necessary with proposals for amendments to the law or ordinances. In its report on systemically important banks of 4 June 2021 (FF 2021 1487),[...]

Sequestration of bank assets

As criminal proceedings drag on, the Supreme Court lifts the sequestration order

A protective criminal sequestration order may appear disproportionate when the proceedings in which it is involved drag on without sufficient grounds. Decision 7B_366/2023 of 14 February 2024 provides a rare illustration of the application of this principle by the Federal Supreme Court. The Federal Court lifted the sequestration orders issued in February 2018 on bank assets, as the Geneva public prosecutor had decided, but contrary to the decision of the cantonal court of second instance. In February 2018, an oil[...]

Asset seizure by the bank against its clients

(High) requirements relating to the plausibility of the claim

A bank that wishes to obtain a receivership against its clients in order to recover an overdraft resulting from an unsuccessful margin call and a liquidation of positions must make its claim plausible by means of detailed explanations and documents. Failing this, the judge must refuse - or revoke - the receivership (Federal Court ruling 5A_515/2023 of 23 February 2024). The dispute that gave rise to this judgment arose from a lombard loan granted by a Zurich bank to two[...]

Right of access

An abuse of rights against the family office

The right of access under the DPA is abused when a person invokes it against a family office to obtain information concerning a trust and the financial situation of his father (ACJC/1610/2023). A very wealthy Italian businessman has a family office in Geneva, which performs various services for his daughter. Payments to her were made from the father's account. The father tells the family office that his daughter has a budget limit of EUR 100,000 per month. The daughter receives[...]

Retrocessions and execution only

The saga that became a soap opera

According to a popular German expression, "Totgesagte leben länger. Despite their oft-heralded demise, retrocessions continue to enrich the civil case law of the Federal Supreme Court. However, practitioners are still waiting for the Federal Supreme Court to take a definitive stance on whether retrocessions in execution-only relationships should be subject to restitution. Unfortunately, these hopes were dashed in the ruling presented here (TF 4A_496/2023 of 27 February 2024): "Damit braucht auf die umstrittene Frage, ob grundsätzlich auch im Execution only-Verhältnis[...]

Asset management

Approval of investments contrary to the investment strategy

An asset manager who does not comply with the conservative investment strategy agreed with his client is not in breach of his contractual obligations if the client has validly approved the investments (Federal Court ruling 4A_507/2023 of 29 February 2024). In this judgment, the client consults an asset manager to manage part of his assets. Over the years, the client entered into three different management relationships with the service provider. In the third relationship, which gave rise to the dispute,[...]

The saga continues

Mutual assistance in criminal matters suspended, but sequestration maintained

In a ruling 1C_543/2023 of 7 March 2024, which is intended for publication, the Federal Supreme Court (FSC) confirms its case law concerning the suspension of mutual assistance and the maintenance of sequestration of funds seized in Switzerland in execution of a request submitted by Russia prior to the aggression in Ukraine. It extended the suspension to a sequestration that had already lasted eight years and ruled out the possibility of invoking Article 2 EIMP. The Federal Criminal Court (FCT)[...]

Unfair competition

Can an intermediary’s commissions be confiscated ?

In a ruling 7B_135/2022, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court details the conditions under which commissions resulting from contracts tainted by an offence of unfair competition may be subject to confiscatory measures (art. 70 and 71 of the Swiss Criminal Code). A Swiss public limited company active in private equity proposed, on behalf of a foreign entity, the purchase of shares in a German company operating in the medical sector. The search for new investors generally began with "cold" telephone calls.[...]

Money laundering using digital assets

Adaptation of the financial industry despite growing use and increasing risks

On 28 February 2024, the Federal Office of Police's Interdepartmental Coordination Group on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism (Fedpol) presented its second report on the money laundering risks associated with digital assets (i.e. digital assets based on blockchain technology such as Bitcoin or Ethereum). The report is of interest to financial intermediaries active in this area - in particular compliance functions - and proposes various recommendations to improve the fight against money laundering. It also highlights certain[...]

Initial Coin Offering

When do investment tokens become securities ?

In a ruling dated 16 January 2024 (B_4185/2020), the Federal Administrative Court (FAT) upheld a FINMA decision of 19 June 2020 finding that a Swiss company and one of its directors had, as a group, engaged in unlawful securities trading, in the absence of authorisation, as an issuing house that had offered securities in the form of investment tokens to the public on a professional basis. As part of an initial coin offering (ICO) with a foreign issuer, the Swiss[...]

Insider trading

Front running and the reasonable investor test

Do a fund manager's own plans and intentions constitute insider information if he engages in front running? This is the question that the Criminal Affairs Court of the Federal Criminal Court is answering in a case involving a former manager of second-pillar pension funds for employees of the canton of St. Gallen. In July 2022, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) filed an indictment against a former employee of the Finance Department of the Canton of St.[...]

Too big to fail

The Financial Stability Board publishes its second report

The Financial Stability Board (FSB) welcomes Switzerland's progress in implementing the Too Big To Fail (TBTF) rules, but stresses that there is still work to be done. Its second peer review report of 29 February 2024 covers the period 2022-2023 and targets systemically important banks (SIBs) operating internationally. The FSB's ten recommendations can be summarised as follows: Increase FINMA's resources quantitatively and qualitatively: in addition to increasing the size of its teams, the FSB recommends a strengthening of expertise to[...]

Internal investigation

Criminal procedural guarantees do not apply

Employers are not obliged to implement the minimum guarantees of criminal procedure in the context of internal investigations, according to ruling 4A_368/2023 of 19 January 2024. An employee had worked for a bank since 2010. In August 2018, a colleague reported the employee internally for sexual harassment, which led to the opening of an internal investigation. Following the investigation report, the Bank terminated the employment contract. The employee contested his dismissal on the grounds that it was unfair. The Zurich[...]

transparency in non-financial matters

Is the legal nature of the AGM vote a false debate ?

This year, the general meetings of public-interest companies meeting the criteria of Art. 964a para. 1 of the Swiss Code of Obligations will be asked to approve their reports on non-financial matters in accordance with Art. 964c para. 1 of the Swiss Code of Obligations. In this context, a controversy has arisen over the legal nature of the vote: on the one hand, Novartis and Roche have already organised a consultative vote, while on the other, the Ethos Foundation is[...]

Bank liability insurance

Careful wording of insured risks

In a recent ruling, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court upheld an insurance company's refusal to cover losses of more than 35 million dollars suffered by a Swiss bank forced to compensate unhappy investors at the end of legal proceedings in Dubai (ruling 4A_440/2022 of 16 November 2023). A bank established in Switzerland has a subsidiary in Dubai, company E. The subsidiary is subject to supervision by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) and is authorised to provide certain financial services,[...]

The L-QIF is coming!

The revised CISA and CISO come into force on 1 March 2024

At its meeting on 31 January 2024, the Federal Council adopted the amendments to the CISO and decided that the amendments to the CISA relating to the limited qualified investor fund (L-QIF), adopted on 17 December 2021, would enter into force. As a reminder, the L-QIF is a collective investment reserved for qualified investors within the meaning of the CISA that is not subject to approval or authorisation by FINMA (art. 118a CISA). It may take the form of a[...]

Retrocessions

What kind of reimbursement is due on investments in a fund of funds ?

In its decision 4A_350/2023 of 21 November 2023, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court upheld a partial ruling by the Zurich Handelsgericht (HG190111-O), ordering an asset manager to account to a BVG/LPP pension fund for retrocessions received in connection with investments in target funds via two funds of funds. This commentary focuses on the question of the foundation's right to information regarding the retrocessions received by the fund manager (for a description of the facts and the issue of informed approval[...]

Conflict of interest

Foundation did not validly approve the investment

Members of the Board of Trustees must recuse themselves from all decisions in which they have a conflict of interest. Their knowledge cannot therefore be imputed to the foundation. This is one of the conclusions reached by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court in ruling 4A_350/2023 of November 21, 2023. A securities dealer (now called a securities firm, cf. art. 41 LEFin) provides asset management services for private and institutional clients. In particular, it manages the assets of a BVG pension[...]

Employment law

Foreclosing claims to vacation time not taken under a severance agreement

In a recent ruling, the managing director of a bank was unsuccessful in his claim for back pay for untaken vacation, even though he believed he was entitled to it, since the severance agreement he had signed with the bank did not specifically address this issue (TF 4A_496/2022 of November 6, 2023). The facts were as follows: the managing director of a bank received an annual salary of 600,000 francs and was entitled to twenty-eight days' vacation per year. His[...]

Revision of administrative criminal law

Publication of the preliminary draft

On January 31, 2024, the Federal Council published the long-awaited preliminary draft of the revision of administrative criminal law. The consultation procedure will run until May 10, 2024. For the record, administrative criminal law is criminal law, with the distinctive feature that the prosecution and adjudication of offences fall within the remit of a federal administrative authority, which varies according to the field concerned (e.g. the Federal Department of Finance for administrative criminal law offences against financial market laws) (cf.[...]

Gold imports

Tax secrecy trumps the principle of transparency

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court has ruled that tax secrecy takes precedence over the principle of transparency (ruling intended for publication 1C_272/2022, delivered in open court by four votes to one). The origin of this ruling lies in the request of the NGO Society for Threatened Peoples, based on the Transparency Act (LTrans). The NGO was asking the Federal Office of Customs and Border Protection (FOCB) for access to detailed statistics on gold imports by major Swiss importers, for the[...]

Change of fund management

Tension between CISA and property gains tax ?

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court examines a new case involving a change of fund management and the levying of transfer duties in the canton of Fribourg, confirming previous case law while clarifying who bears the economic burden of taxation (9C_312/2023 of December 7, 2023, intended for publication). The case concerns a real estate investment trust which has changed its fund management. E. SA was registered as a quasi-fiduciary owner of some fifteen properties in the canton of Fribourg and acted[...]

Withdrawal of accreditation

Administrative sanctions and art. 6 ECHR

An auditor whose accreditation has been withdrawn asks to be allowed to plead his case in open court; the Federal Administrative Court rejects his request. On appeal, the Federal Court concluded that there had been a violation of the right to a public hearing enshrined in art. 6 par. 1 ECHR, and thus affirmed that the civil aspect of this provision applied to procedures for withdrawal of accreditation (TF 2C_384/2022 of November 14, 2023). The Swiss Federal Audit Oversight Authority[...]

Sustainable finance

First update of the Swiss Climate Scores

On December 8, 2023, the Federal Council published a Swiss Climate Scores Update, a (slight) update of the Swiss Climate Scores introduced in June 2022. Without making any major changes, the review of this rating system introduces two new features: a new (optional) indicator focusing on the portfolio's investment objectives, to determine the extent to which the portfolio is aligned with the Paris Agreement objective (i.e., to keep the global average temperature increase below 2 C° above pre-industrial levels, and[...]

Advertising and greenwashing

The Swiss Fair Trading Commission publishes its guidelines

On December 19, 2023, the Swiss Commission for Fair Trading (Commission) published a new guideline dated November 22, 2023 on the subject of environmental and/or climate-related advertising. Role of the Commission As a reminder, the Commission is an independent institution whose aim is to ensure the self-regulation of advertising communications. Anyone is entitled to lodge a complaint with the Commission concerning commercial communications which they consider to be unfair within the meaning of the Federal Act against Unfair Competition (UWG).[...]

Staking

Clarifications on cryptoasset custody and distraction

In recent years, staking services have proliferated, and with them the legal issues surrounding them. In order to clarify its practice, particularly with regard to the safekeeping of cryptoactives, FINMA has published Supervisory Notice 08/2023 on staking. FINMA defines staking as the process of blocking cryptoassets at the staking address of a validation node in order to participate in the validation process of a blockchain based on the proof-of-stake mechanism. In return, participants receive rewards. The communication clarifies the interpretation[...]