Looking for a bank account with a secret number?
For many, numbered accounts are shrouded in mystique. What could be more exciting than transferring money to an associate directly to your secret bank account with a Swiss number?
Greeted by your personal banker (although he doesn’t know your name), you’re escorted past nuclear security systems like the president himself to the vault, where a numbered box filled to the brim with pressed banknotes awaits.
It’s a dream we can all indulge in for a moment, but how does it work in the real world?
Until recently it was still possible to get your own ‘numbered account’ and if you had opened one in the 1950s you would still be the proud owner of such an anonymous bank account.
Swiss banks offered anonymous bank accounts, numbered bank accounts, or even the legendary “sparbuch” savings account, where the owner of a secret book was identified as the account holder. They will be protected by strict Swiss bank secrecy and perhaps be incorporated into a larger asset protection structure that includes offshore bearer share companies, trusts and nominee directors.
Times have changed. Governments have become increasingly aggressive in collecting taxes since the heyday of offshore banking in the 1970s and have turned to tax avoidance methods promoted by offshore service providers and asset protection specialists.
Part of their campaign against tax havens is to link bank secrecy and secret numbered accounts to money laundering. This concept was cemented into government ideology after the 9/11 attacks, after which governments could claim that secret bank accounts were used not only by drug lords but also by terrorists. Following creative logic, they could argue that all offshore money has been “tainted” by criminal hands and will not be “cleaned” again until it is in the hands of the government.
In 2004, Switzerland was forced to introduce new money laundering regulations that spelled the end of the numbered account, mandating that all account holders be properly identified.
Now, numbered accounts still exist, but only if the bank knows exactly who the account holder is.
Still want a secret numbered account?
Although the Swiss number account as we know it is officially gone, you can still get a much cheaper alternative that protects your privacy in the same way.
For example, you can use a trust company to open you a secret bank account in a secure and private jurisdiction in their name, denominated with your own special reference number. All transactions will only show the trust company number and name. The bank doesn’t know who you are.
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