In need of financial advice? Do not be afraid to go and see your banker. Interview with Mr. Yves Dubois, Director of UBS UN HQ Branch and Mr. Christian Stettler, UBS Manager for the international organizations

In one way or another, financial questions occupy an important place in our daily lives. Geneva is one of the world’s financial centres; just the place to find answers to our questions. We went knocking on the door of the bank that most internationals know in Geneva—UBS. Who better to talk about the subject than Mr. Yves Dubois, Manager of the UN branch, and Mr. Christian Stettler, Manager of all the UBS branches to the international organizations.
Q: When did you start to work with international organizations?
Collaboration between UBS and the international organizations started more than fifty years ago. The first local branch was set up in 1956 at CERN. Very quickly others followed, such as at WHO where we have been present for more than forty years, then GATT — the predecessor of WTO, ILO, etc.
Over the years a close relationship has been established — not only between the employees of the different organizations but also with the actual organizations themselves. We are present in almost all establishments.
It is also worth pointing out that some of our outlets in this area are open to the general public — this is, for instance, the case of the UBS branch in Petit-Saconnex, Cointrin (Airport) and the one at Vermont-Nations. We are the bank of a significant number of actors of Geneva’s International Community.
This relationship has given us the opportunity to gain extensive knowledge and experience of the international community, which has quite a number of specificities. In addition, we have become acquainted with different uses, customs and cultures.
Q: In what way are you « different »?
Think of this civil servant newly arrived in Geneva. We can clearly help her/him out regarding day to day banking matters (i.e. local payments, transfers, credit cards, debit cards, e-Banking, etc…). Uses and customs are so different from one country to the other. It is really worth getting advice on these matters.
Or this investor holding US shares of which heirs could one day be liable to US inheritance taxes, regardless to his citizenship or place of residence.
We definitely can offer an advice on various issues.
We always regret it when clients tell us that they have made a decision and that they did not know that we were able to provide them with information that might have been very useful to them in the decision-making process. UBS is in a position to provide tailor made solutions to civil servants at every stage of their life.
Q: Does this mean that we can knock on your door to ask for advice?
Our concept of giving advice is something extremely important and is identical whether you are in Geneva, Frankfurt, New York or Singapore. We would never propose our solutions to you before we have asked you some questions. This may take a couple of minutes longer than you anticipated. Imagine a case of medium complexity — somebody who would like to buy some property and needs a loan. There are certain things we need to know about the person —environment, family situation, financial situation, future prospects. We want to propose something that corresponds to their needs.
Q: As an international civil servant or diplomat I would like to buy a house in Switzerland, and get a loan — would you be able to give me all the information I need?
Yes, of course. We could have given you global advice on the subject and be satisfied with this. However, you cannot move ahead in such and important financial investment unless you have the required information, and for this reason we give you the information regarding the acquisition itself, eventual problems of inheritance — how to transmit the house/apartment to your heirs — fiscal implications. If you are a diplomat or an international civil servant, your revenue is not taxed. But when it comes to owning property, there is taxation and it’s important you should know about it. We also have good know-ledge about the property market — that might be quite useful too!
Q: Talking about retirement — do you advise on that subject?
Retirement is certainly one of the most important events in life. You and your bank may need quite a long period of reflection in order to come up with the optimal financial solution.
When it comes to retirement, it’s important to understand the concept. It is very important to make people aware of the need to establish a budget by saying to them: « You will have such and such charges to pay — rent, electricity etc. — and you must match this to the revenues you will have when you retire. » Most probably, the Pension Fund will provide almost all of the revenues for the budget and, if there is a shortfall, we can try to cover that by making some investments. However, this is something that should be thought about quite early. It’s true that when you are 30 years old questions about your future retirement may not be among your main concerns. However, we see that when retirement age is getting closer, people become aware of the matter. Unfortunately, in some cases, there may not be enough time to prepare and the consequences may be quite dramatic.
Q: What are the main points to take into consideration?
Nevertheless, more and more future retirees in the international organizations come to see us, and that’s very satisfactory. We are, in fact, capable of proposing a financial plan to them. There are four major points to be taken into consideration. First of all, do you want to withdraw part of your retirement benefit in cash or keep it all for monthly payments? As an international civil servant, you have the possibility of receiving part of your benefit in cash and the rest as a monthly payment. That’s the first thing to reflect upon. Second aspect is currency. Quite a number of people come to see me to open a US$ account, whereas there are so many other factors to be taken into consideration. Here again, there is not just one answer: the reference made to the dollar value, taxation issues, inheritance, etc. What the client thought would take a couple of minutes may, in fact, take an hour. Quite a number of internationals are being paid in US dollars, and then there is a correlation between their place of residence and the amount paid out. The third point: generally speaking, retirement revenue is less than that earned today. The fourth point is that taxation will also enter the overall picture, including the fact that the retirement age in the UN organizations is 62 or less, whereas the Swiss retirement age is 65 (for those living in Switzerland). On all these aspects we are able to give useful advice. Therefore, I would say that if you have not already had the time to make plans earlier, try to come and see us as soon as possible so that we can at least help you with the planning.
In fact the best advice is: « Come and see us »!
Q: So when and how should one start to prepare for retirement?
One should tackle the question the sooner the better.
It’s obvious that the whole financial concept is about adapting it to life cycles, and that it’s about the same for all people. There may be some differences, but globally most people go through the same phases. We have solutions that match all of these different aspects.
While we can give these types of advice, you should have an idea of where you would like to be in five or ten year’s time. We need to know the environment of people and to understand where they are in their life cycles. For instance, people often come to see us regarding investments and they tell us: « I have read in the newspapers that the stock exchange is always going higher and I would like to buy shares. » Some financial advisor would, of course, say « yes, sign here! » and everything is over in five minutes. Once again, we do not proceed in this way. UBS is not a simple seller of products.
We take into account the specificity of each client. Take the matter of taxation, for instance — a very complex and difficult matter. It applies to a certain category of civil servants, but the situation today may not be the case tomorrow. For instance, the European taxation laws affect a specific category of international civil servants and there is some specific advice to be given. The whole thing is rather complicated.
So many things can impact your revenues when reaching retirement that again the sooner you start thinking about it the better it is.
Q: You mentioned European taxation — can you tell us more about it?
The EU savings taxation is a legislation which the EU member states introduced on July 2005 with the aim of ensuring the taxation of cross border interest payments made to individual residents in the EU.
European taxes like any taxes have to be taken into consideration when investing. We do provide solutions for every specific situation.
Q: What about inheritance? Somebody told me recently that in Geneva you do not have to pay taxes on inheritance?
In Switzerland, with its twenty-six different cantons, each canton decides on its level of taxation, including inheritance. Since we are talking about Geneva, it’s true that the surviving spouse and the direct heirs do not pay taxes on inheritance.
Q: If I were to stay here for a couple of years before being transferred somewhere else, is it possible to keep my account here and to receive advice?
Of course! The bank is very pleased to serve its customers. Due to the fact that UBS is a global bank with different distribution channels, it’s possible to keep in touch with your advisors. Among these channels is e-banking, which also enables internationals to keep in touch. It’s true that we have lots of e-banking users and among them an impressive number of internationals. Our international presence allows also being visible worldwide and can serve in some cases.
Q: Is there a private banking service for Internationals? Could you tell us what you offer in particular to these clients?
We offer services to different levels of fortune, ranking from the employee who gets his monthly salary to extremely wealthy persons. For each of these different levels we have different services and products.
At UBS you have, in fact, access to a huge number of services. The global presence of the bank also gives us the chance to offer specific products. We have spoken quite a lot about taxation issues, but we also have clients who have special concerns when it comes to investments corresponding to their religious convictions. For instance, investments for a person of the Muslim faith would have to match certain religious criteria. We are able to propose several solutions to them.
Q: Finally, if you have a wish what would it be?
UBS is the main bank for Geneva internationals and we would, of course, like it to remain so, and to reinforce it even more. We have many advantages for Geneva internationals: we have adapted ourselves to their situation; we have established strong links to them; and we pursue our efforts to be even better. We are working on it every day. In today’s changing world, you cannot take anything for granted and we would like to be better and better improved and the best advisor in the international community. We wish to continue be your privileged partner.
Who to contact:
UBS Vermont-Nations 022/918.26.11
UBS ONU / UN 022/919.22.11
UBS CERN 022/783.21.88
UBS Cointrin (Airport) 022/306.14.88
UBS OMC / WTO 022/909.12.88
UBS Petit-Saconnex 022/749.20.11
UBS OMS / WHO 022/929.15.11
UBS BIT / ILO 022/929.15.88