07 December 2011

Swiss Bank Accounts

Recently I've been on a mission to find a better bank.

You might think that, here in Switzerland, excellent banks are on every corner like gas stations in the USA. And perhaps if the wife and I could bump the decimal point of our American liquid assets a couple of spots to the right, that might be true.

Currently, we have, I think, three accounts at UBS, the nation's largest bank. It's the bank that's got added caché right now thanks to being sued by the US government, which seeks to gain access to you sneaky Americans hiding income offshore. Maïf and I don't fear U.S. government intrusion because our assets wouldn't cover what an IRS parking lot guard dog makes in vacation pay.

What we fear is how much it costs just for me to deposit a check at UBS in US dollars. For every such check that I deposit into our UBS checking account, we pay CHF 10, which is currently equal to about $11. Considering that some of my freelance writing paychecks aren't much more than that, it's only natural that we'd seek alternatives.

So I started checking other financial institutions for a better check-fee deal. I found that Raiffeisen charges CHF 60 per foreign check, Credit Suisse charges CHF 40, and it's the same at the Banque Cantonale Neuchâteloise, but at least there, after my meeting from 11:30 to 11:33, monsieur wished me "bon apetit."

I don't take these astonishing fees personally. It's not because I'm American. It's because, in Switzerland, they don't use checks, and discourage this messy practice with exorbitant fees. "Checks are 20th century," says my Swiss-French wife with uncharacteristic Swiss-German seriousness. In this country it's mostly bank-to-bank. You and your client or doctor or chimney-sweep exchange bank transfer I.D. numbers and the sterile money-value is moved at light-speed. It's like safe sex.

My Swiss clients transfer my fees right into our account. Meanwhile, my American clients still snail-mail paper checks halfway around the planet, which I then snail-mail back to the U.S. to my American bank so it won't cost me CHF 10 to deposit it here.

Annoying and delightful.


  1. I feel your pain. To avoid these high fees, I'm always sending my U.S. checks back to my personal banker in the U.S., my mom.

  2. I think you 'll just have to accept that paper checks are like dinosaurs; we don't even use them anymore in the UK. I thought America was all about doing everything online (especially having read Chantal's posts)? Clearly the Swiss are way ahead when it comes to money transfers.

    Try the post office. That's where I have my bank account and it's usually the cheapest for anything like this. Or maybe your employers should discover the 21st century and use Paypal!

  3. Chantal, can I hire your mother?

    Diccon, yes, the P.O. might be the best option. I tried to go to one a couple days ago to inquire about their rates, but, silly me, I went during lunch hour, when it was closed. This is one of those things that's hard to get used to -- the post office is closed during lunch, right at the time when office workers have time to dash there to take care of their postal needs. Bon ap, postal workers!