(photo credit: REUTERS)
ZURICH - Swiss banks released on Wednesday the names of more than 2,600 holders of accounts that have lain dormant for at least 60 years, giving them or their heirs one last chance to claim their wealth before it reverts to the state.
The banking industry said around 44 million Swiss francs ($44.5 million) were lying fallow in bank accounts that had gone untouched since at least 1955. Around 80 safety deposit boxes whose contents were unclear were also gathering dust.
People can search for dormant accounts on the website https://www.dormantaccounts.ch that went live on Wednesday under new legislation that took effect in January.
"By publishing this information, the banks are making a last attempt to re-establish contact with the customer," said Claude-Alain Margelisch, chief executive of the Swiss Bankers Association.
"For the banks, on the other hand, these new regulations create legal certainty for the treatment of dormant assets."
More names will be added to the list every year as the 60-year period rolls on. The deadline for submitting requests is one year from the date of publication.
It could take weeks or months to evaluate claims, the banking lobby says, adding banks may charge their costs to claimants who file clearly unfounded requests.
Unclaimed accounts are a sensitive topic in Switzerland after the World Jewish Congress led a campaign in the 1990s for Swiss banks to return assets of Holocaust victims.
Under pressure from Jewish organizations and the US government, big Swiss banks in 1998 agreed to pay $1.25 billion to settle allegations they had drained such dormant accounts dry and stonewalled heirs seeking relatives' money.
Switzerland's tradition of banking secrecy and established wealth management industry have long attracted riches of people who want to avoid prying eyes.