Crypto companies based in Switzerland may receive access to regular banking services as early as this year. Political will and economic wisdom seem to be in place as some government officials and bankers are already working to resolve a serious issue. Swiss banks have been refusing accounts to firms from the growing crypto industry.
Banks Expected to Offer Services by the End of the Year
In terms of crypto development, Switzerland is now standing at a crossroad. With very few exceptions, most of its banks have been refusing banking services to a growing number of startups residing in the country’s Crypto Valley and this is beginning to suffocate growth in the fintech sector.
Luckily, far-sighted policy makers and seasoned financiers have already pulled their sleeves up and are working to break the deadlock. One of them is Heinz Tännler, the finance director of the canton of Zug, home of the Swiss Crypto Valley. Speaking to the Financial Times, Tännler said he expected Swiss politicians and regulators to remove the obstacles in the coming months, which would allow crypto companies based in the country to operate with banks just like any other business. He added:
We hope to clarify relationships by the end of the year at the latest. Time is pressing – other jurisdictions such as Malta and Singapore are very active and making a lot of effort to attract these companies. The lack of access to bank services is a significant competitive disadvantage.
According to Mr. Tännler, the country’s central bank, financial supervisor and federal government “are willing to help.” He also stressed that “We have to push certain national institutions to resolve this problem quickly and effectively, but that now seems to be going well.”
Traditional financial institutions are increasingly under pressure to offer crypto startups regular services like bank accounts. According to Swissinfo, the bottleneck has become acute since the ICO craze brought $1.46 billion to Switzerland last year. A recent report by the Crypto Valley Association revealed that token sales through May this year have attracted nearly double the funds raised in 2017.
Mounting Pressure to Break the Deadlock
Representatives of the industry have warned that if crypto businesses are not provided with access to banking services they may start looking for better conditions elsewhere.
“Starving startups of bank accounts is akin to killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” said blockchain and cryptocurrency expert Guido Schmitz-Krummacher, former director of the Tezos foundation and advisor to projects like Cardano. He believes that the failure to provide a reliable environment for startups will harm the reputation of the Crypto Valley in Zug.
“I am already seeing projects choose Singapore, Malta and Gibraltar because they can’t get a bank account in Switzerland. They will be followed by projects already established in Switzerland unless the banks and politicians address this topic.” The lack of access to normal banking services is worrying, according to Alain Kunz, chief executive of Coinlab Capital, a startup offering blockchain asset management services. “You can do a lot with crypto but you can’t pay rents and salaries,” he told the FT.
Some Swiss politicians and bankers have already heard these worries. In January, economy minister Johann Schneider-Ammann shared a vision of Switzerland becoming a “Crypto Nation.” His colleague, finance minister Ueli Maurer went a step further by forming a working group with representatives of the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), the financial regulator and the central bank in an attempt to find a solution. The SBA has also set up a taskforce and is planning to establish a set of standards for ICO startups in order to simplify the process of opening bank accounts.
“Both we as an association and the banks have an interest in business relations in this growth area. Banks see the potential that the blockchain technology offers for their industry and Switzerland as a financial and technology hub,” the SBA said in a written statement quoted by Swissinfo. Welcoming its actions, the Crypto Valley Association (CVA) said it anticipated “a progressive broadening of offerings by a number of Swiss banks.”
Very few legacy institutions in Switzerland have so far declared readiness to offer services to the 200 Zug-based blockchain and crypto firms. Among them are Neuchâtel Cantonal Bank and Neue Helvetische Bank. They were joined recently by Hypothekarbank Lenzburg, which announced this month it was accepting cryptocurrency related businesses as account holders. In the meantime, some Swiss startups have opened bank accounts in neighboring Liechtenstein using the services of local banks such as Frick and Alpinum. Others have decided to enter the sector of traditional financial services through partnerships.
Do you expect Swiss banks to offer crypto companies unrestricted access to banking services? Share your thoughts on the subject in the comments section below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.
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