Swiss insurers gain as secrecy woes hit banks

The UBS Park Avenue building in New York. The bank is losing money and clients to the Baloise unit, SoBa. (AFP)

Baloise has won business from UBS and other Swiss banks amid sustained international pressure on the country's bank secrecy rules, the insurer's chief executive told Reuters.

"Money is flowing from the banking world into the insurance industry in a big way," said Martin Strobel, the head of Switzerland's fifth-biggest insurer. "I think that the assurance industry can bring its strengths to bear now."

Baloise unit Bank SoBa had mopped up money leaking from UBS, which has struggled to dam a torrent of client money outflows after a damaging US tax case and accepting a state bailout at the height of the crisis.

Other new customers seized on record low interest rates to take out mortgages at Bank SoBA. "Growth accelerated," Strobel said. "We have strong new business. We are definitely gaining from UBS, but that is not our only source of growth."

An ongoing and aggressive Italian tax amnesty, while bad for Swiss wealth managers like UBS, Credit Suisse and Julius Baer, had also proved a boon for Baloise as many clients chose tax-complaint life insurance policies as an alternative to private bank accounts.

Strobel said business was also taking off in Germany, which has launched repeated broadsides at Swiss bank secrecy and is at the centre of a diplomatic storm over data stolen from a Swiss bank and offered for sale to German tax authorities.

While the wave of consolidation predicted by many insurance industry watchers has failed to arrive, changes to solvency requirements for European banks and insurers could drive insurance industry consolidation, Strobel said.

"It could be that Solvency II causes problems for one (insurer) or another. Basel III could lead to individual banking groups having to raise more capital," he said. "It could be that they sell their insurance shareholdings to generate cash."

 

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