Own your account

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IT’S A QUIET tree-lined street in Geneva along the lakefront. It would be: I’m on my way to meet a Swiss Bank director, and all the impressive but unobtrusive buildings here are, well, Swiss banks.

Inside, the aura of money is palpable. Everything is seriously understated, an ability achieved only at great expense. Along the hushed corridors, great art has been there for centuries. Even the frames are genuine antiques.

I’m indebted to a member of a Swiss watch-making family (that other ubiquitous Swiss export), which has dealt with this bank for generations, for this meeting. Otherwise, I’d have been politely refused in my request: to understand how to open a Swiss bank account.

Over a cup of coffee — always accompanied by Swiss chocolate — I learn that one needs to deposit a minimum sum. No sum is mentioned, although it’s clearly in excess of $1 million. And two references from prior clients are essential.

Clients must have proof of identity and the money should be transferred from a bank account. It’s a provision to safeguard against illegal money, but the existence of other havens from which money can be transferred makes it a toothless tiger.

Having learnt that over 60 percent of clients are the fourth or fifth generation dealing with the bank, I emerge from its rarefied environs, knowing now, by experience, how like a cocoon the quintessential Swiss bank is, representing a world in which your wealth is safe — and very secret indeed.