chapter  9
13 Pages

Swiss international banking, 1890-1950

In the course of the twentieth century, and particularly as a result of its neutrality during the two World Wars, Switzerland has emerged as one of the major financial centres of the world. Until the recent rise of Tokyo, it was usually considered to rank third after London and New York. Given the small size of the country, this position has been due to the very large extent of its international financial activities. From an early stage, Switzerland has been a major exporter of capital. According to Paul Bairoch, Switzerland had invested some 2.7 billion dollars abroad in 1913, corresponding to 700 dollars per head. Even allowing for a significant margin of error, due to the poor state of Swiss statistics in the nineteenth century, this would put Switzerland ahead of Great Britain in terms of capital exported per head at the eve of the First World War. l Both the volume of capital exports and the gap with other countries when calculated per head narrowed during the interwar period, with the total amount of foreign investments reaching 2.3 billion dollars in 1938. But after the Second World War, Switzerland was again far ahead in terms of capital exports per head which, in 1967, were 2.6 times higher than those of its immediate follower, namely Great Britain.2 Although statistics are not available, it is also well known that Switzerland has been a major recipient of flows of foreign capital.