Rich Swiss bank clients seek refuge from negative rates: study

ZURICH (Reuters) - Wealthy bank clients in Switzerland are diverting more of their cash to investments such as hedge funds and private equity to counter negative interest rates, a report by French consultant Capgemini CAPP.PA said on Thursday.

The logo of Cap Gemini is seen at the entrance of the company headquarters in Paris, France, February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Capgemini’s annual world wealth report found that high-net-worth individuals in Switzerland kept 21.4 percent of their assets in cash and cash equivalents in the first quarter of 2016, down from 28.2 percent a year earlier.

These high-net-worth clients are defined by Capgemini as individuals with $1 million-plus to invest,

“Because clients are not receiving any interest, they’re looking for alternative investment opportunities,” said Tobias Wolf, senior manager at Capgemini Consulting.

The Swiss National Bank has pushed interest rates to record lows since January 2015 in an effort to weaken the Swiss franc. It now charges banks 0.75 percent on some deposits.

With the exception of Alternative Bank Switzerland, Swiss lenders have not yet passed on negative rates to retail customers, but some have introduced deposit charges for cash-heavy corporate, private and institutional clients.

Switzerland's biggest bank, UBS UBSG.S, could pass on negative rates to wealthy private customers or add new service fees to safeguard profitability and capital returns, its chief executive said last month.

The Capgemini study also found that, for the first time, the Asia Pacific region had more high-net-worth individuals than North America.

Asia Pacific, which many private banks are counting on to drive growth, had 5.1 million such individuals in 2015, compared with 4.8 million in North America.

Capgemini also found that the growth in the number of high-net-worth individuals and their wealth slowed to 4.9 percent and 4 percent respectively, well off the pace of previous years.

Reporting by Joshua Franklin and Angelika Gruber; Editing by Michael Shields and David Goodman