Picture: BLOOMBERG/STEPHEN KELLY
Picture: BLOOMBERG/STEPHEN KELLY

Zurich — Swiss private banks have seen a sharp rise in British clients who are moving assets offshore to escape a chaotic Brexit, several sources familiar with the situation have said.

“In recent months, the number of accounts opened from Britain has trebled,” one person at the wealth-management arm of a large international bank in Switzerland said.

Swiss banks do not disclose details of their clients but the sources said that most of the accounts opened by British-based clients were for high net-worth British nationals wanting to shift some assets to safe-haven Switzerland.

This trend had clearly intensified in recent weeks, a source at a large Swiss bank said.

Wealthy Britons also want to protect their assets against the  possibility of a high-tax Labour government coming to power soon, another source said.

The pound has lost 17%-18% against the dollar and the euro since the UK’s vote on EU membership in June 2016. With just weeks to go before Britain’s deadline to leave the EU on October 31, the terms of the UK’s departure, and possible ramifications for its economy, are still unclear.

One Swiss private banker said his bank has also drawn more customers from Britain over the past three to six months.

A source at the Swiss wealth-management arm of a second international bank said rich Britons are particularly afraid that the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn will win an expected UK election soon and find ways to get a share of their money.

“More than anything else, people are afraid of Corbyn,” the person said.

Swiss banks, such as UBS and Credit Suisse, are among the world’s biggest wealth managers, favoured in part for Switzerland’s economic and political stability. The Swiss franc is also popular as a safe-haven investment at times of uncertainty.

Statistics compiled by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) show Britons held nearly $19bn in Switzerland as of the end of March, the most recent figures available. That is off peaks of about $30bn during the financial crisis.

Luxembourg is another attractive offshore market for wealthy Britons. British residents had parked more than $14bn in Luxembourg as of the end of March, and the trend has been on the rise over the past three years, BIS data shows.

Reuters