Zcashers are not alone in the world. There’s another group of people, in fact a whole country, that sees financial privacy as a defining value. Switzerland has a long history of developing privacy as a basic human right and defending against attacks on privacy. There’s a lot to be learned from the Swiss.
My first job after college was at UBS, the largest bank in Switzerland and a world leader in wealth management. I was 21 years old, looked like I was 14, and was tasked with talking to wealthy middle-aged adults about how to allocate large sums of money. I felt like they should have been advising me.
What did I learn at UBS?
- Digitization was fast enabling money to be global and interconnected. At the time, in the early 2000’s, physical cash was still very popular, checks were common, and credit cards were just getting traction. On my first visit to Geneva at the train station, I asked if they accepted American Express cards. To my surprise and delight, the Swiss worker said something in a charming French accent that stayed with me — “In the land of finance, we accept everything.”
- Money should be productive, working for you, so you don’t have to work. Productive money enables freedom.
- But mostly, I learned how important privacy is to wealthy people. It’s essential. UBS built an empire, one that gets stronger every year since 1862, by servicing wealthy people with financial privacy.
What laws protect Swiss privacy?
There are several major laws regulating financial, data, and information privacy in Switzerland -
- The Bank Secrecy Act of 1934
- Article 13 of the Swiss Constitution
- DPA or Data Protection Federal Act and
- GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation
Basically, the Swiss have a right to privacy in their private life and their financial life, and their personal data cannot be used against them.
Did the Swiss once have their very own global ambassador program?
Yes, in the early 1900’s during WWI, Swiss ambassadors travelled to nearby European countries to promote the secrecy and security of their banking system. In this time of instability, wealthy families were looking for a safe place to store assets. As a result, many people from France, Germany, and Italy moved their holdings into more stable Swiss accounts for protection during the war.
How did the Swiss defend their privacy rights against attack?
Financial privacy was codified into law in 1934 with the Swiss Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks. In an effort to aggressively protect assets of the enemies of Nazi Germany, this law made disclosing any client information a criminal offense!
There’s an interesting story in 1940 when Hitler attempted to raid the UBS headquarters in Zurich to confiscate Nazi assets, so the Swiss army protected the bank by surrounding it and used one of the most powerful weapons they had, their bank secrecy act. They told Hitler not your keys, not your coins, or something like that.
Since then, numerous international proposals for bank secrecy rollbacks were made by foreign states with little success. During that time, there were only 4 people who ever violated Swiss bank secrecy.
The most infamous of them, the Birkenfield Disclosure, was in the mid 2000’s. Bradley Charles Birkenfield was an American banker working for UBS in Switzerland. His job was to recruit wealthy clients from the United States. He violated Swiss banking secrecy laws in 2007 with a series of disclosures to the United States about UBS clients evading US taxes. As a result, UBS settled with the US DOJ to defer US prosecution in exchange for 780 million dollars and releasing information on 4,000 American tax evaders. The IRS rewarded Mr. Birkenfield with 104 million dollars for his efforts.
Birkenfield is a criminal and a traitor in Switzerland and an arrest warrant has been in place for him since 2008. He says he has no plans to go back.
Is Switzerland crypto-friendly?
“In the land of finance, we accept everything.” Crypto Valley near Zurich is home to hundreds of crypto companies. The non-profit foundations of Ethereum, Tezos, and Cardano are there. Lugano in the Italian speaking region has hundreds of merchants, including a McDonalds, that accept bitcoin for payment. In many Swiss canton’s, taxes can be paid in Bitcoin or ETH. Since 2016, Bitcoin can be purchased at any SBB train station ticket machine.
The Swiss have a thriving crypto-economy, which brings Switzerland all the benefits of any thriving economy — increased jobs, people, and tax revenues. They got there by valuing privacy, security, and innovation.
It should be no time before the Swiss fall in love with Zcash, which is compliant with all their financial privacy laws and right in line with their values as a country.