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Working and Living in Geneva

Friday 11 February 2011 by Gina Le Prevost

Geneva is well known for its lake, closeness to the Alps and private banking industry, but if you are willing to relocate to this part of Switzerland you have to be aware that there is more to Geneva than this. Ideally situated in the middle of Europe, Geneva has been voted for many years as one of the best place to live in the world. Not only the quality of life here is exceptional, it has been one of the highest regarded financial centres in Europe.  Even though the tough economic times have affected most of the world, business’s here have remained stable.

Swiss Romande (Cantons of Geneva, Vaud and Valais) along with Zurich are the most dynamic parts of Switzerland. While French here is an important language, English is a must for a foreign worker in the city. The region’s population is in excess of 1,400,000 with Geneva itself 173,000, and it offers an exceptional quality of life. The public transport is very developed and reliable with a network of low-cost trams, buses, taxies and boats, making it very attractive to commuters. 

Many professionals commute to Geneva from other cantons and also from France, which surrounds the canton of Geneva. Not only has the affordable travel attracted workers from outside the city, but also the lack of affordable accommodation in central Geneva. Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world, mainly because of elevated real estate prices. The lack of new construction and limited space combined with elevated demand has pushed house prices up dramatically. Therefore, if relocating, it is recommended to use an agency to find accommodation.
 
Education is one of the most important factors for families and Switzerland offers some of the best schooling in Europe. Along with local, there are several international and bilingual schools. The cost of international schools is close to the British public school, but the level of education is excellent and is likely make a great foundation for the future. Taxes in Geneva are average compare to the rest of Switzerland but higher than nearby Vaud or Valais.

With most of European capitals less than two hours away, and an attractive tax regime for employers, Geneva enjoys a unique central location. It is also the head office location of many international groups but also organisations such as the UN and CERN. These groups have chosen Swiss Romande due to the region’s economy being one of the most performing in Switzerland. The region has shown grater resilience to the economic downturn than German-speaking Switzerland. The vitality of the local economy allows for high salaries, compared to the rest of Europe and employees enjoy a good work-life balance.

Amongst all industries in Geneva, wealth management is one of the oldest and more important for his economy. As the global organisations, many of local and foreign private banks have their head offices in Geneva. While in Zurich the banking industry is more diverse, Geneva remains the capital of Switzerland for the private banking industry. 
 
The banking activity is an important pillar for the local economy; however the global crisis and the pressure of developed countries on Switzerland’s banking secrecy have raised some concerns.

The whole industry in Geneva and the rest of Switzerland is questioning itself. The wealth management world is rethinking the basics and is starting to take new approaches. For example, many banks have recently sold their trust companies and are questioning their wealth planning approach. The tendency seems to go towards onshore solutions, which not only offer more sophisticated services to clients but also bring more transparency to the wealth management industry. Therefore compliance issues are the heart of these changes. 
It looks like compliance is no longer just a part of the industry but a key aspect of it. Candidates with strong legal and compliance skills are much needed. This is because we are in a world of growing transparency and compliance.

Private Banks and high new worth individuals are facing serious challenges, with the complexity of managing the assets increasing. 

Private clients have been severely affected by the crisis and pressure from the local tax authorities on non-domiciled individuals, therefore they need a new approach, more tailor made solutions. Selected firms are in an effort to standardise the client approach, yet the solutions for ultra high net worth needs are getting increasingly complex, therefore require a more dedicated approach. 

The private banking industry in Swiss Romande is at the brink of a new era. The unique position of Geneva, strong local expertise combined with the influx of new talent, should bring the solutions of tomorrow’s wealth management world. This is a key jurisdiction for the professionals in the Private Client sector.