GENEVA More than a third of Geneva's banks expect a difficult 2017 after finding 2016 much tougher than the year before, an annual survey of the Swiss city's financiers showed on Tuesday.
Swiss competitiveness has been badly dented by the strong franc, but Yves Mirabaud, president of the Geneva Financial Center which carried out the poll, said the main threats are curbs on immigration from the European Union and a failure to pass laws guaranteeing access to the EU banking market.
And the country's banks, many of which are based in Geneva, should not count on Britain's vote to leave the EU driving banks out of London to the shores of the city's lake, Mirabaud said.
"We must not underestimate the City of London's resilience, nor should we forget that a presence in Luxembourg, Dublin or Frankfurt would give you access to the European market, unlike in Geneva," he said.
Asked where they would relocate if they left Geneva, four in ten bigger banks and the overwhelming majority of smaller banks said Luxembourg, with London also named by a minority. None chose New York, Hong Kong or the Middle East.
A combination of increased regulatory scrutiny, a crackdown on U.S. tax evasion and the longer-term impact of the financial crisis on returns have all made life harder for Swiss private banks, which once enjoyed a relatively cosy existence looking after the fortunes of the world's super-rich.
However, two out of three banks employing more than 200 people in Geneva said 2016 was turning out to be "difficult" and a further one in six found it "very difficult", the Geneva Financial Center, which represents more than 110 banks with 18,855 local employees at the end of 2015, found.
The picture was less bleak among smaller banks, more than a quarter of whom said 2016 was going "well" or even "very well".
Wealth management was a particular sore point for many of the bigger employers, with nine out of ten saying Geneva had become a less attractive place for it in 2015, and eight out of ten saying it had become less attractive for the EU's wealthy.
More than 70 percent of the big banks said wealth management had been "difficult" or "very difficult" in the first half of 2016, and the same number reported total assets under management shrinking by 3-7 percent over the period, which only a minority blamed on shifting exchange rates.
Three-quarters of the big banks expected to cut their overall Geneva workforce in 2017, a third of them by more than 5 percent, but smaller banks expected their payroll to go up or stay the same, the survey found.
(Editing by Alexander Smith)