September 17, 2011

Top Swiss banker calls for entrepreneurial freedom

Vincenz appeals on bankers to show a greater sense of responsibility
Vincenz appeals on bankers to show a greater sense of responsibility (Keystone)

by Jean-Michel Berthoud, swissinfo.ch


The head of Switzerland’s third-largest bank urges politicians not to over-regulate the banking sector in the wake of the financial crisis.

Pierin Vincenz, who hopes centre-right parties will do well in the October 23 parliamentary elections, calls for a pragmatic approach in implementing international standards on bank customer confidentiality.


He says stability is key for to maintain the image of Swiss banks which has suffered over the past few years.

“One thing that makes Switzerland very attractive is our political stability. Compared with other countries, Switzerland is in a very good position. I expect that this stability will be maintained, even if there are slight shifts,” he told swissinfo.ch.

He says his Raiffeisen Group, which plays an important role in financing home purchases, is directly affected by decisions of parliament.

Chief executive Vincenz has a wish list for the new parliament.

“Of course we are interested in over-regulation being stopped. After the financial crisis, we are in a difficult situation. If all companies are subject to the new rules, those who are in a good position and were successful even during the financial crisis will face strictregulations too.”


Promote women

He says the new parliament must continue to guarantee entrepreneurial freedom in Switzerland.

“Parliament also needs to create a framework which guarantees more success in getting important jobs in business filled by women to promote , Further, in family policy, particularly as regards the advancement,” said Vincenz.

He hopes that the political forces as they are currently represented in parliament remain more or less the same.

“I am assuming that the green parties will gain a bit because of current developments. But I hope that the centre-right parties will still make a good showing.

The image of bankers has suffered badly since the financial crisis hit. There is talk about “rip-off salaries”, arrogance, criminal energy and above all about inability to learn. Does the Raiffeisen CEO understand this feeling in the public at large?

“The bad image is justified to some extent. But it does not apply to all banks, and not to all bankers. Here in Switzerland we have a large number of bank staff who take their responsibilities seriously.”


Willing

Vincenz says it us up to every economic leader to support measures which will prevent the banking sector ever again getting into such a difficult situation.

“Take the issue of excessive pay and bonuses,” he explained stressing the need to stick to certain rules of the game and to show the willingness to do something.

“The vote on the initiative on excessive manager salaries will show that this demand is very popular. One could make a counter-proposal, to bite the bullet and bring in a bonus tax.”

Vincenz evokes the alternative business model of the Raiffeisen banks. “We are organised on a cooperative basis. We feel the responsibility to take an active role in regions and communities.”

While the measures proposed by the government to tackle the issue of higher capital requirements for banks are being sharply criticised, especially by the leading UBS bank, and even accompanied by threats to pull out of Switzerland, the Raiffeisen CEO finds the government proposals appropriate.

”It is right that the banks should need to have enough capital of their own. We can’t get into a situation any more where the banks have to be bailed out by the government,” Vincenz said.


Pragmatism

The Raiffeisen banks too are now being called upon to have more resources of their own. “That is not a big problem for us because we plough our profits back into the business. And that means we have more resources at our disposal.”

Vincenz calls for a practical approach in countering international pressure on banking secrecy and tax dodgers, saying Switzerland should adopt the international standards and implement them pragmatically.

But everything to do with confidentiality and mutual cooperation must match our Swiss standards and we can’t just give these things up to get a deal with other countries.

Vincenz sees no need to amend banking secrecy rules for the domestic market.

“Switzerland already has mechanisms to take action against tax fraud, but also in serious cases of tax evasion. Protection of privacy – and the bank customer’s privacy belongs here – must remain an important factor in the Switzerland of the future.”


Mortgages

Raiffeisen is heavily involved in the mortgage market in Switzerland. Vincenz is not afraid of excessive risks or aproperty bubble, which Swiss National Bank chief Philipp Hildebrand warned against.

“In some regions, in Zurich and around Lake Geneva, there is certainly a price explosion in the property market.

“But in numerous other regions the increase is moderate. Still is a fact that the demand for residential property is strong, because of low interest rates and inward migration but also people’s general wish to own their own home.

Vincenz pledges that Raiffeisen will retain their “very responsible mortgage lending policies” although the market share in the cities is still small. “But we are very careful here”.


Jean-Michel Berthoud, swissinfo.ch
(Adapted from German by Terence MacNamee)

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