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GC POWERLIST: SWITZERLAND

GC gets the lowdown on market conditions in one of the world’s richest countries from GCs profiled in The Legal 500’s GC Powerlist: Switzerland.


SARA MAGEIT

RESEARCH ANALYST, THE LEGAL 500
E-mail Sara

Switzerland’s longstanding neutrality and geographical position in central Europe have given it the political stability and platform to become one of the world’s wealthiest (and most high-cost) countries. It has reaped the benefits of its rich combination of exports and inflow of skilled workers from neighbouring countries. Andreas Bohrer, group general counsel at biotech company Lonza, advises GCs considering a move to the country to understand its uniqueness: ‘Get to understand the people that are working here in the Swiss market and also the consumers. It’s important to understand that Switzerland, even though it is in the middle of Europe, has some aspects and features that are fundamentally different.’

Banking and finance

The secrecy of the banking sector has recently come under scrutiny, in particular from the US and EU. This scrutiny has kick-started financial market reforms – for example, from 2018, EU residents will be prevented from using Swiss banks to hide undeclared income. Emma Molvidson, general counsel for the Investment Bank and Switzerland at UBS, is upbeat about the impact of the financial crisis at her organisation: ‘We have been effectively transforming ourselves for a few years now, especially the Investment Bank, and that is now bearing fruit. We have gained momentum and there’s a real drive which I haven’t seen since I joined the bank.’

The compliance challenges for GCs in the sector can be considerable, however. ‘As you can imagine with all these different regulators and legislators in different jurisdictions, they are not all the same in terms of strategy, approach or even goals. We are facing a situation where we have an out trade between what the rules are in the various jurisdictions in which we operate. The rules are overlapping to quite a large extent but, critically, they are not overlapping 100%’, says Molvidson. ‘Trying to stay abreast of all that and to manage operationally the implementation of all these new rules and procedures that we are effectively getting from our regulators and our legislators is a challenge. It is taking a tremendous amount of time for legal and compliance to just ensure that the business can be run as per normal.’

Healthcare and innovation

Switzerland is well known for its accessible healthcare sector, and advancements in microtechnology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. According to Bohrer at Lonza, ‘the biggest potential lies in industries where we have innovation and high-tech as the main value driver. Switzerland is a high-cost country, so success can only come from these areas. If a company’s culture is about continuous innovation, production remains economically viable, even in Switzerland.’

Precious metals

With two thirds of the world’s gold transiting through Switzerland, the precious metal sector is particularly alive to the challenges of operating across international markets. Jose Camino, group general counsel at Metalor, says this: ‘One of the challenges has been the strong appreciation of the Swiss currency that came as a surprise early in the year. Having the cost in Swiss francs, but selling in euros or US dollars, puts an enormous pressure on the organisation. However, the situation has forced the company to become even more competitive, revisiting and improving processes and reducing costs across all areas.’

Camino also explains that the nature of Metalor’s products means that the risk of money laundering is very present, necessitating a willingness to give business away rather than risk reputational damage. With the changing regulations on transparency it is clear that this has become an increasingly crucial agenda for privately held companies and their shareholders, as well as FINMA [the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority]-regulated financial institutions.

Outlook

New regulations may add complexity, particularly in the field of compliance, but with the strong competitive advantage that its robust economic structure brings, Switzerland is also a good choice of legal venue.

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