Switzerland’s largest cantonal bank is confident it already has a big enough risk-absorbing capital buffer to match tougher regulatory demands after being named alongside UBS and Credit Suisse as a “too big to fail” financial institution.
The Swiss National Bank (SNB) turned up the heat on the Zürcher Kantonalbank (ZKB) on Monday by upgrading it to a category one “systemically relevant” institution. In other words, ZKB’s collapse would cause more pain than the Swiss economy could bear.
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US tax strife
The ambitious ZKB has been busily expanding its business in recent times, in particular its wealth management services. But the international push for growth has led to some problems, most notably a criminal investigation in the United States into allegations that the bank helped US citizens evade taxes.
ZKB is among a handful of Swiss or Swiss-based financial institutions that are enduring a full blown probe by the Department of Justice on this issue. The cantonal bank of Basel is the other Swiss state-owned bank on this list.
With a capitalisation of CHF150 billion at the end of last year, ZKB is the fourth largest banking group in Switzerland – behind UBS, Credit Suisse and Raiffeisen. It realised profits of CHF744 million in 2012, employed just over 5,000 staff and managed nearly CHF200 billion of clients’ wealth.
A FINMA spokesman told swissinfo.ch that the regulator supported the SNB’s decision to name ZKB as too big to fail, but declined to go into detail of how stringent the new capital requirements could be.
Swiss too big to fail legislation, that came into force last year, also demands that these banks cover at least 4.5% of all assets - no matter how risky - with capital reserves. ZKB said its so-called leverage ratio is already comfortably above this threshold.
The bank must also come up with an emergency plan of how to protect its core functions, such as retail deposits, should it collapse. ZKB said on Monday that it does not anticipate having to change strategy or cut any rsikier operations.