For many, numbered accounts are shrouded in mystique. What could be more exciting that having an associate wire money direct to your secret Swiss numbered bank account?
Get greeted by your personal banker (although he doesn’t know your name), be guided past nuclear security systems like the President himself into the vault, where a numbered box lies waiting for you, filled to the brim with fresh pressed notes.
It’s a dream, and one we can all indulge in for a moment, but how does it work in the real world?
Until quite recently it was still possible to get your own ”numbered account”, and if you had opened one up in the 1950’s, you would still be the proud owner of such an anonymous bank account.
Swiss banks used to offer anonymous bank accounts, numbered bank accounts or even the legendary ‘sparbuch’ savings account, where the owner of a secret passbook was identified as account holder. These would be protected by razor sharp Swiss bank secrecy, and perhaps slotted in to a larger asset protection structure which included offshore companies with bearer shares, trusts and nominee directors.
Times have changed. Governments have grown ever more aggressive in the collection of taxes since the 1970’s heyday of offshore banking, and wizened up to the tax avoidance methods promoted by offshore service providers and asset protection specialists.
Part of their campaign against tax havens has been to associate bank secrecy and secret numbered accounts with money laundering. This concept was cemented in government ideology after the 9/11 attacks after which governments could claim that secret bank accounts were used not only by drug lords but terrorists too. Following creative logic they could then claim that all offshore money was ‘soiled’ by criminal hands and would not be ‘cleansed’ again until in the hands of the Government.
In 2004 Switzerland was forced to introduce new money laundering regulations which spelled the end of the numbered account, obliging all account holders to be properly identified.
Now numbered accounts still exist, but only if the bank knows exactly who the account holder is.
Do you still want a secret numbered account?
Although the Swiss numbered account as we know it has officially gone, you can still get an alternative much cheaper which protects your privacy in the same way.
For example you can use a trust company to open a secret account for you at a bank in a safe and private jurisdiction in their name, denominated with your own special reference number. All transactions will show only a number and the name of the trust company. The bank doesn’t know who you are.