At a Banker’s Discretion

News | Vienna Review | May 2013




Granny’s Dangerous Savings Account, 9 Apr.

by Eric Frey

Austria has now given in to international pressure and declared itself ready for an automatic exchange of information in the EU. Foreign tax exiles will no longer be protected, though the domestic small saver will be fine. For domestic bank secrecy, supported by almost all the parties, must remain – almost all political parties are in agreement.

But who does this protection actually serve? Why is bank secrecy so popular that nobody in this election year dares to rattle it?

In real life bank secrecy confers but few advantages, despite its constitutional status. The anonymous savings account that once effectively protected one’s assets against all access was abolished more than a decade ago. […] Today, if the authorities have a good reason, they can gain access to all banking information.

One might view bank secrecy – like neutrality – as part of Austrian folklore, as an expression of a truly special national identity that arose after 1945 and to which we have since become very attached. Austrians don’t like talking about money, at least their own. With these arguments the SPÖ and ÖVP try to justify their somewhat incomprehensible decision to limit the disclosure of banking information to foreigners.


Germans Use Austria as a Safe, 10 Apr.

by Michaela Seiser

In Austria these days, financial institutions have to ask unpleasant questions of their foreign customers. Numerous financial institutions advertise bank secrecy as a bonus with constitutional status. Not least for that reason Austria is, for many Germans, a sort of Alpine safe. That could change, if bank secrecy is abolished. According to the records of the Austrian National Bank (OeNB) a good 23 billion euros of German origin are sitting in Austrian deposit accounts. […]

What also plays a role in this is that ever more Germans live in Austria. The number of Germans working between Bregenz and Vienna now amounts to 90,000 people and has noticeably increased in recent years. Meanwhile, almost a quarter of a million Germans live in Austria, the primary residence for 170,000 of them.

State Visit Revives Bank Secrecy, 15 Apr. 

by Stefan Osorio-König

Although it wasn’t planned that way, the debate about Austrian bank secrecy is secretly the leading topic of the Luxemburg state visit in the Alpine republic. On Monday [15 April] the state visit of Grand Duke Henri began with military honours in Vienna.

"The state visit of Luxemburg’s head of state could not have come at a better time for Austria," said a spokesperson from government circles, who declined to be named. Although it was a coincidence that the Luxemburg state visit came at the same time as the debate about Austrian bank secrecy, "this visit nevertheless widens the discussion from within the Austrian context and raises it to a European level".

The Conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in particular is making the theme of bank secrecy part of its current campaign for the Parliamentary election in the autumn. "The arguments of the Grand Duchy revive the debate over bank secrecy in Austria."

In this respect, divisions between the ÖVP and the Social democratic SPÖ are easy to recognise. The Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ) has repeatedly shown himself in recent weeks ready to negotiate an automatic exchange of data, while his finance minister Maria Fekter [ÖVP] is opposed.

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