Tag Archives: Bank secrecy

Tax Evasion and Wealth Inequality

The Economist reports about a study by Annette Alstadsæter, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman who matched leaked information from Swiss banks and Panamanian shell companies with Scandinavian wealth records. Their findings:

  • Tax evasion is progressive. The average / top 1% / top 0.01% Scandinavian household paid 3% / 10% / 30% fewer taxes than it should.
  • Accordingly, estimates of wealth inequality (based on tax data) likely underestimate the degree of inequality.

Swiss Leaks

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published a report that seems to suggest that HSBC’s Swiss branch violated Swiss laws; helped customers to hide assets; and assisted in money laundering activities. The report is based on information that Hervé Falciani, a former HSBC employee-turned-whistleblower, handed over to French authorities in 2008.

The small print (in the footer of the “Swiss Leaks” website) reads:

There are legitimate uses for Swiss bank accounts and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Swiss Leaks interactive application have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.

Additional reporting in The Guardian, FTNZZ, Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The End of Bank Secrecy?

Jeevan Vasagar and Vanessa Houlder report in the FT about the pledge by 51 countries to facilitate the collection and exchange of information on bank accounts and the beneficial ownership of companies and other legal structures. The agreement was drawn up by the OECD and previously endorsed by the G20. Going forward, the countries involved seek a consensus on the treatment of intellectual property income.

Christoph Eisenring in the NZZ and the FAZ provide additional information. Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands signed the accord; Switzerland and Singapore promised to follow soon; Panama and the US didn’t. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble declared the end of bank secrecy. While not signing the agreement the US is credited for helping to make it possible, due to the FATCA treaties is has signed with many countries. Those treaties also stipulate an automatic exchange of tax information. However, so far the US has not produced the legal base to provide such information to foreign governments.

“Banken und Staaten (Banks and States),” FuW, 2012

Finanz und Wirtschaft, June 20, 2012. PDF. Ökonomenstimme, June 22, 2012. HTML.

  • Changes in bank regulation reflect changed views about whether banks contribute to the social good. Those views have become less favourable.
  • In Switzerland, bank secrecy is no longer defended because the perceived cost to the general public exceeds the benefits to the banks.
  • Similar doubts start to arise regarding money creation by banks. A proposal to shift to a 100% money regime offers some advantages.