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The Mystique of the Numbered Swiss Bank Account

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August 19, 2009

The agreement between the U.S. and Swiss governments for UBS to hand over the names of 4,450 account holders is helping chip away at the image of banking secrecy carefully cultivated by the Swiss.

The image promises discretion and a hint of intrigue and exclusivity. It has also attracted interest in Hollywood, where Swiss banks have been a staple of international action thrillers and best-selling books like “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Bourne Identity.”

However, as the IRS has put the squeeze on the Swiss and UBS to open the bank vault doors to scrutiny, the Swiss banking industry is bound to undergo a change in image, hopefully for the better. Because as the financial industry becomes more globalized, there are fewer remote islands (including the Caymans) in which to stash away loot and hide it from the taxman.

Presumably Swiss banking clients are still free to leave clues to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail inside their safe deposit boxes, though.

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