After 209 years, Swiss bank Pictet opens its books to public scrutiny

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SWISS Private bank Pictet has opened its books to public scrutiny for the first time after being dragged into the spotlight by a change in its 209-year-old structure and a US tax investigation.

The first public accounts of famously discreet Pictet affirmed its position as Switzerland’s third-largest wealth manager, ahead of Julius Baer and behind UBS and Credit Suisse.

Pictet’s first-half figures also showed a bank that holds capital well above regulatory minimums.

The publication of the results comes several days before cross-town rival Lombard Odier is also expected to publish its earnings for the first time since it was founded in 1796.

Neither are making the disclosure by choice. Both cases are the result of these partially family-controlled banks becoming limited partnerships, moving away from a structure where its eight partners assumed unlimited personal liability in the event of a crisis. Some industry experts argue that a key reason for the change was to limit the partners’ exposure to potential fines from the US probe. Geneva-based Pictet is one of about a dozen Swiss banks under criminal investigation in the United States for allegedly helping wealthy Americans evade taxes.

Jacques de Saussure, senior partner at Pictet, denies this was the motivation, saying the bank had originally hoped to make this move six years ago but the financial crisis put it on hold.

Pictet is well-positioned to handle any fine, holding 21.7 per cent in core capital – the ratio of equity to risk-weighted assets –the results showed. This is almost three times what is required by Swiss regulators. Pictet posted net profit of 203m Swiss francs in the first half of 2014.