Digital banking is not really a solution for the Swiss abroad

It is online that the president of the OSE, Filippo Lombardi, led the debates of the Council of the Swiss Abroad. Keystone / Anthony Anex

The Council of the Swiss Abroad met this weekend. The partnership with a digital bank and the war in Ukraine have caused nervousness. But there have also been reports of success.

This content was published on March 15, 2022 – 15:54

The political lobbying of the Organization of the Swiss Abroad (OSE) has worked despite the pandemic. Meeting online last weekend, the Council of the Swiss Abroad – parliament of the Fifth Switzerland – was able to present the results of these efforts.

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The years pass, but the difficulties of the Swiss abroad with the Swiss banks are still not resolved. It is increasingly difficult for them to obtain a bank account at acceptable rates.

Many saw a solution in the emergence of digital banks, including the OSE. The latter has made a concrete commitment with the payment service provider Yapeal, a Swiss start-up for which the partnership with the Organization of the Swiss Abroad is worth the trifle of 50,000 francs.

“Worst case scenario, you lose your money”

But the negative headlines were quick to follow. As Yapeal reorganized, the question of the neo-bank’s financial health arose. The OSE has requested information. Treasurer Lucas Metzger was able to inform the Council of the Swiss Abroad. “We know that the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority follows Yapeal very seriously, he said, before specifying: “Yapeal is not a bank, but a payment service provider. He’s here to pay the bills.”

This offer theoretically meets a great need for many Swiss abroad, as many still have financial obligations in Switzerland.

There are some downsides to the deal, however, as became clear during Saturday’s Council meeting. First of all, according to Lucas Metzler, Yapeal only offers its services in countries bordering Switzerland; for all the others, it currently falls into the water. Moreover, “it is not a bank which is subject to the guarantee of deposits, further specified Lucas Metzger. In the worst case, you lose your money”. Unlike traditional banks, which in all cases guarantee deposited assets up to 100,000 francs.

Member of the Council of the Swiss Abroad, Ivo Dürr described another pitfall. According to personal experience, it is not possible to transfer money from a foreign account to a Yapeal account. This means that Yapeal is currently not a real alternative for the Swiss abroad. “That’s why it’s really not interesting for us,” concluded Ivo Dürr.

Swiss representation in Moldova

Johannes Matyassy, ​​Director of the Consular Directorate, informed the Council of the Swiss Abroad of the concerns of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the war in Ukraine.

The war forced Switzerland to close its embassy in Kyiv and neither the embassy staff nor the Swiss abroad wishing to leave the country could be repatriated by air. The European Union organized a special train. According to Johannes Matyassy, ​​18 Swiss abroad were interested in this organized departure, but only four managed to get to the station. “The main problem is that people travel to the station from their homes,” he explained.

Such a train will be organized again for the current week. “We are aware of one or two very difficult cases at the moment, of people who would like to leave the country, but who cannot do so on their own,” the diplomat said.

He also informed the Council that Switzerland would soon open an external office in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, replacing Kyiv. For this purpose, an existing cooperation office will be occupied by diplomats.

Call for greater personal responsibility

In addition, Johannes Matyassy announced that his department would be carrying out an information campaign this year entitled aging abroad. Individual responsibility is at the center of this campaign. The pandemic has clearly shown the FDFA that a number of Swiss living abroad have sometimes unrealizable expectations of Switzerland.

During the pandemic, Switzerland carried out numerous repatriation flights, such as here in Bogota, Colombia, in March 2020. Keystone / Marwin Productions

“We have seen that the theme of individual responsibility is very difficult and often overlooked during a crisis,” the diplomat said. This is why we have decided to launch this information campaign. I know it’s tricky, but we’re doing it.”

Political rights – Participation in votes

The fact that the Swiss abroad cannot take part in votes and elections because it takes too long to send voting documents by post is a recurring topic on the OSA’s agenda. Since attempts at electronic voting have disappeared from the horizon for security and cost reasons, there is also discussion about how to optimize existing mailing practices.

And things are moving: during the spring session of the Federal Chambers, the liberal-radical deputy Laurent Wehrli proposed that at least the outgoing voting documents could be done by e-mail. His arrest was unsuccessful. The Federal Council replied that “the electronic sending of printable voting documents harbors considerable potential for manipulation and abuse”.

But Laurent Wehrli also sits on the OSE committee – and in this case, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. In its response, the government therefore promised to look again this year “at the possibilities of improving the sending of voting documents and voting abroad”. Concretely, it is a question of trying to send voting documents more quickly to mailboxes around the world by diplomatic mail. A first test has taken place and is being evaluated, a second is planned.

The OSE also expects impetus from its participation in the Conference of Cantonal Chancelleries. The cantons are in fact responsible for sending the documents. “It all depends on the cantons, so we try to take things at source,” said OSE president Filippo Lombardi. And the director, Ariane Rustichelli, specified that the OSE wanted to propose to the Conference a working group to find ways of making the sending of documents more efficient.

Life certificates: case resolved

There are also issues that have been definitively settled during this session. One of them is the issue of life certificates. These are necessary to prevent the Swiss compensation funds from continuing to pay pensions to deceased persons. For Swiss pensioners abroad, obtaining such a life certificate was often laborious and often required a trip to the consulate. From now on, registration in the Register of Swiss Abroad also suffices as proof.

Continuing the fight against anti-Semitism

The initiative of the Organization of the Swiss Abroad to create a Holocaust memorial in Switzerland was also completed. This project was the subject of motions in the National Council (Lower House of Parliament) and in the Council of States (Upper House) during the spring session. It is now in the hands of the Confederation to be implemented.

The organization’s long-standing fight against anti-Semitism continues, however. At the end of her assembly, she intervened with a vote in an ongoing political debate. By 69% of the votes, the Council of the Swiss Abroad accepted at the end of the session a motion asking the Federal Council and Parliament to make the public use of Nazi symbols punishable.

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