What Happens To Dormant Assets If Unclaimed?

What Happens To Dormant Assets If Unclaimed?

Wed, Jun 5th 2024

Dormant assets liquidated last year injected CHF 7.1 million into Switzerland’s federal coffers, revealing challenges in tracing beneficiaries.

KEYSTONE/Michael Buholzer

Last year, dormant assets definitively liquidated funnelled CHF 7.1 million into Switzerland’s federal coffers. A significant proportion of these assets ended up in federal hands because claimants couldn’t be traced or their eligibility couldn’t be verified.

Swiss banks occasionally lose contact with customers, often due to moves abroad or deaths. Banks follow the “Narilo Guidelines,” established in 1995, to handle such situations. If there’s no customer contact for an extended period, banks must make “reasonable” inquiries.

If the person can’t be located, assets over CHF 500 are sent to a central database accessible only to the Swiss Banking Ombudsman, who then searches for beneficiaries. Unclaimed assets get published on www.dormantaccounts.ch after 60 years, and if unclaimed for another year, they are transferred to the Federal Finance Administration (FFA).

Since 2001, the Ombudsman has identified 710 contactless accounts, transferring assets worth CHF 139.4 million to beneficiaries and accessing 73 safes. The Ombudsman also handles private inquiries about potential contactless assets. In 2023, 477 inquiries were managed, with only 18 concluded successfully.

“The average success rate since 2001 has been around 6.5%,” says Andreas Barfuss, Swiss Banking Ombudsman. The low success rate is because most applicants search for relatives’ accounts, often based on guesswork. In 2023, most applications came from Germany (151), followed by France (66) and Switzerland (49). Outside Europe, Asia (32) and North America (31) led the inquiries.

In total, returned assets amounted to CHF 1.1 million last year, down from CHF 14.1 million in 2022. The majority of processed dormant assets, CHF 7.1 million, went to the federal government. Since 2017, CHF 96.6 million has been transferred to the Confederation, with a peak during the coronavirus years.


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