A list of 2600 unclaimed dormant bank accounts was made public yesterday Wednesday, December 16, by Swiss Bankers Association which contains over 2,600 accounts and 80 safe deposit boxes.
The total holding in these accounts is estimated at about 44 million Swiss franc ($44.6 million). The online list reveals that Swiss banks currently have around CHF44 million ($44.6 million) of unclaimed assets held in their vaults. In addition, some 80 safe-deposit boxes containing unknown sums of valuables have been listed as dormant.
An SBA statement said that for accounts that have been idle since 1955, individuals have one year to make a claim or the assets will be transfered to the federal government, while accounts dating from 1954 or earlier, claimants have a five-year window.
The criteria for listing such assets is an account containing at least CHF500 where contact with the holder has been lost for the last 60 years. Heirs to such assets have one year to assert a claim (five years if bank contact with the client was lost prior to 1955) before accounts are liquidated and assets handed to the government. The online publication of dormant accounts has been forced by a change to Swiss banking laws at the start of the year. Claude-Alain Margelisch, praised the development for providing better “legal certainty” for banks.
The issue of dormant accounts has dogged Swiss banks since revelations in the 1990s of some banks holding on to assets of Jewish clients killed in the Holocaust.
In 2013, a fund set up to compensate Holocaust survivors and victims’ heirs closed down after handing out some $1.24 billion. The SBA insists that the current list of dormant accounts has nothing to do with this issue, which was settled in 1998 after heirs of account holders brought a class action lawsuit in the United States. Instead, the law change is merely Switzerland catching up with other financial centres that have had dormant account rules in place for years.
Following the Holocaust era scandal, the SBA tightened up procedures for tracking down owners or heirs of dormant accounts. Since 1996 it has been possible for people to trace assets of heirs using the Swiss Banking Ombudsman.
According to the SBA, the ombudsman was able to track down CHF52 million and 42 safe-deposit boxes which were subsequently transferred to their legal owners between 2001 and 2014.