Under the National Bank Act, the SNB is obliged to report to the Federal Assembly each year on the fulfilment of its statutory tasks. The accountability report describes the economic and monetary developments during the period under review and gives a detailed presentation of how the SNB fulfilled its tasks.
Article IV consultation
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) monitors a country’s economic development on a regular basis (usually once a year) and assesses the impact of its policies on the exchange rate and the balance of payments. The assessment is carried out according to the provisions of article IV of the IMF Charter. IMF staff compiles a report which is discussed in the Executive Board. The Board’s recommendations are passed on to the country in question. Publication of a summary of the discussion and the report is voluntary, but recommended to member states. The report on Switzerland’s article IV consultation is published by the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (www.sif.admin.ch) and the IMF (www.imf.org).
Balance of payments
The balance of payments comprises the cross-border exchange of goods and services, labour income and investment income, current transfers and capital transfers, as well as financial flows to and from other countries during a certain period. The development and the structure of the balance of payments provide information on a country’s foreign trade and investment relations. The methodological basis of balance of payments statistics is the Balance of Payments Manual of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Swiss balance of payments, which is compiled by the SNB, is divided into three sections, namely the current account, the capital transfer account and the financial account.
For statistical purposes, the SNB divides banks in Switzerland into bank categories according to characteristics such as nature of business, institutional structure, geographic scope of activities and size of total assets. However, no hard-and-fast criteria are used for the categorisation. The SNB divides the Swiss banking system into the following categories: big banks, cantonal banks, regional and savings banks, Raiffeisen banks, other banks (including stock exchange banks, other banking institutions and foreign-controlled banks), branches of foreign banks and private bankers. Foreign-controlled banks and branches of foreign banks are sometimes classed together as foreign banks.
The Bank Council oversees and controls the conduct of business by the SNB, in particular as regards compliance with legislation, regulations and directives, but not regarding monetary policy decisions and monetary policy actions of the Governing Board. Of the eleven Bank Council members, five are elected by the General Meeting of SNB shareholders and six by the Federal Council, which also appoints the President and Vice President of the Bank Council. The Bank Council has a Compensation Committee, a Nomination Committee, an Audit Committee and a Risk Committee.
Banker to the Confederation
In accordance with the National Bank Act, the SNB may provide banking services to the Swiss Confederation for an adequate consideration. However, they are provided free of charge if they facilitate the implementation of monetary policy. The SNB may not grant the Confederation loans or overdraft facilities, nor is it permitted to buy new issues of government debt securities.
Bank for International Settlements (BIS)
The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) was founded in 1930 and has its headquarters in Basel. It promotes international monetary and financial cooperation. The central bank chairpersons of the BIS member states meet regularly for an exchange of information. The BIS maintains the secretariat for various committees and groups of experts, e.g. for the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board (FSB). As a bank for central banks, it manages the currency reserves of numerous countries and international financial institutions. Moreover, it grants bilateral monetary assistance loans and acts as counterparty for central banks in their financial transactions. The SNB has occupied one of the seats on the BIS Board of Directors since the BIS’s foundation.
The aim of the Banking Act (Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks) is to protect creditors and to strengthen the Swiss financial centre. It sets out rules on authorisation for the commencement of banking activities, on the banking activities themselves and on the presentation of accounts. It also stipulates that the audits required under banking law be conducted by private auditors and defines FINMA as being responsible for supervising the banks.
The sum of all banknotes issued by the SNB is referred to as banknote circulation. Notes in circulation, together with the sight deposits of domestic commercial banks held at the SNB, make up the monetary base. Banknotes in circulation represent a liability of the central bank vis-à-vis the public, and are thus shown on the liabilities side of the central bank’s balance sheet.
A banknote series consists of different denominations, which are developed, designed and produced at the same time. Up to now, there have been eight banknote series in Switzerland. The notes of the first series were put into circulation in 1907 and were considered interim banknotes. Not all notes of the 8th banknote series were actually brought into circulation. The 4th and 7th series were held as reserve series. Work on the 9th banknote series has been under way for several years now. The issue of the first denomination of this series may be expected in 2015 at the earliest.
Basel Capital Adequacy Framework
Basel Committee on Banking Supervision
The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision was established in 1974 by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in response to the collapse of Bank Herstatt in Germany, which was brought about by currency speculation. The Committee is made up of representatives of central banks and banking supervisory authorities from 27 countries. Switzerland is represented by FINMA and the SNB. The Basel Committee’s main objectives are to promote the exchange of information between national supervisory authorities, to enhance supervisory techniques and to issue recommendations for regulatory minimum standards. The decisions and recommendations of the Basel Committee attract a great deal of attention worldwide. They are not binding, however, as the Committee does not exercise a supranational banking supervisory function. Particularly significant is the Basel Capital Adequacy Framework, also known as Basel I, Basel II and Basel III.
Issued by the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision, the Basel Capital Adequacy Framework has the purpose of increasing the stability of the international financial system and promoting a level playing field in competition among banks. The original Basel Capital Adequacy Framework (Basel I), issued in 1988, focused on the provision of minimum cover for credit risk.
A revised version (Basel II) of the Basel Capital Adequacy Framework was issued in 2004, and was aimed, on the one hand, at making the capital adequacy rules more sensitive to risk. On the other hand, the first ‘pillar’ of minimum capital requirements was supplemented by two further pillars, one relating to the supervisory review process and the other to disclosure obligations for the purpose of strengthening market discipline.
The reforms by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, issued in 2010 (Basel III), include a further revision of the Basel Capital Adequacy Framework. In addition to stricter, risk-based capital requirements with a countercyclical effect, these new requirements set limits on leverage for the first time (leverage ratio). Basel III also aims for a global minimum liquidity standard. Basel III is to be implemented in Switzerland gradually from 2013 to 2018. An important trigger for Basel III was the global financial crisis that began in 2007.
In terms of total assets, earnings and staff numbers, big banks constitute the largest bank category (according to the SNB’s definition) in Switzerland. They are universal banks offering a full range of banking services both in Switzerland and – unlike most of the other banking groups – abroad.
Board of Governors
The highest body of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is the Board of Governors, in which all member countries are represented. The Board of Governors delegates a large part of its executive authority to the Executive Board. Switzerland’s interests are represented on the Board of Governors by the Chairman of the SNB Governing Board.
Book money is a balance held in a bank or post office account. It is also known as sight balances or money in account.
Bretton Woods institutions
In summer 1944, representatives from 45 nations met in Bretton Woods, a small town in the US state of New Hampshire, for the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference. The Bretton Woods conference led to the foundation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in 1945. The Bretton Woods institutions are specialised agencies of the UN. Switzerland has been a member of the two institutions since 1992.
The defining characteristic of cantonal banks is that the canton holds more than a third of its capital and exercises control over more than a third of its shareholder voting rights. Cantonal banks are today largely universal banks, with a strong emphasis on savings and mortgage business. For most of the cantonal banks, the canton takes either full or partial responsibility for liabilities.
The capital market supplements the money market, and is a market for raising and investing medium to long-term funds. Medium-term loans are generally those with a term of one to four years, with anything beyond that considered long term. In this context, a distinction must be made between the stock market for equity capital, and the bond market, where debt certificates (bonds), i.e. borrowed capital, are issued and traded.
Capital transfers are part of the balance of payments. They comprise trade in intangible non-financial assets (e.g. patents) and the provision of capital without economic consideration. Capital transfers in the Swiss balance of payments include, for example, debt relief for developing countries and capital payments in connection with development aid.
Cash is understood to mean banknotes and coins that can be used as legal tender.
Cash deposit facility
A cash deposit facility is a stock of banknotes and coins that the SNB sets up with a third party for use by cash processing institutions. However, the SNB retains ownership of the banknotes and coins stored in the external deposit facility.
Cash processing institution
Cash processing institutions are private companies that handle the sorting of banknotes and coins on behalf of third parties (banks, Swiss Post, retailers, small businesses, etc.). These companies subsequently hand over excess or damaged banknotes and coins to the SNB. They also participate in the distribution of banknotes and coins.
A central bank is the monetary authority of a country. As a rule, it has the exclusive right to issue banknotes (note-issuing privilege) and conducts the country’s monetary policy. Switzerland’s central bank is the SNB.
A central counterparty is an institution which interposes itself between buyers and sellers on a market, acting as seller to every buyer and as buyer to every seller. The central counterparty is responsible for the management and performance of the contracts. Most notably, it assumes the counterparty risk, i.e. the risk that a contracting party cannot meet the obligations arising from the contract. Should one of the parties fail to meet its obligations, the central counterparty must have sufficient financial resources and liquidity to cover potential losses and meet its payment and delivery obligation on time.
Clearing is the process of transmitting, reconciling, confirming and, in some cases, netting reciprocal obligations as well as calculating the final positions for settlement of a payment or securities transaction.
Under the SNB definition of the different bank categories which applied until 2009, commercial banks were, as a rule, universal banks for which, alongside commercial lending to trade, manufacturing and commerce, mortgage lending also played a role. The commercial banks category was dissolved in the course of the 2008 reporting year, and the banks were reallocated to other bank categories.
Together with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Poland, Serbia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, Switzerland forms one voting group (constituency), and is a member of the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Consumer price index (CPI)
The national consumer price index (CPI), which is compiled by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, measures the average development of prices for goods and services in demand by private households in Switzerland. The CPI is calculated every month based on a basket whose contents represent private household consumption. The CPI is used to measure the inflation rate in Switzerland. The SNB uses the CPI as a basis for its definition of price stability.
Continuous Linked Settlement, CLS
Continuous Linked Settlement (CLS) is an international foreign exchange settlement system.
Countercyclical capital buffer, CCB
The countercyclical capital buffer is a preventative capital measure within the Basel III framework and will be introduced in most countries over the next few years. It has been available in Switzerland since July 2012. If the capital buffer is activated, banks are required to carry out a temporary and gradual increase in their capital in the event of imbalances on the lending market. The aim is to protect the banking industry from the consequences of excessive lending growth by increasing banks’ loss absorption capacity. Moreover, a capitalisation means that the costs of lending rise, and this counters the build-up of imbalances. The capital buffer may be activated for the entire credit market or just for one sector, for instance the mortgage market, and is set at a maximum level of 2.5% of the entire domestic risk-weighted assets of a bank. If the capital buffer is activated in Switzerland, it must be complied with by all Swiss banks as well as by the subsidiaries of foreign banks in Switzerland, in addition to all other capital requirements. If the SNB decides that an activation, adjustment or deactivation of the buffer is required, it makes a proposal to the Federal Council after consultation with FINMA. On 13 February 2013, the Federal Council decided to activate the countercyclical capital buffer for the first time upon the proposal of the SNB (press release).
Currency in circulation
Currency in circulation is made up of banknote circulation and coin circulation minus the cash holdings of banks.
The SNB’s currency reserves comprise its gold holdings, the foreign currency investments, the reserve position in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the international payment instruments.
The Principality of Liechtenstein has, by statute, introduced the Swiss franc as its legal tender. The Currency Treaty between the Swiss Confederation and the Principality of Liechtenstein governs the collaboration between the two countries with regard to the joint currency area.
The current account is part of the balance of payments. It comprises goods trade and services transactions with other countries, cross-border labour income and investment income, and current transfers. Current transfers are services provided free of charge and, in contrast to capital transfers, do not constitute the provision of capital. The current account is also referred to as the ‘real’ part of the balance of payments (as opposed to the financial part in the financial account).
Deflation is the opposite of inflation and denotes a continued decline in the general price level over a longer period. The deflation rate measures the percentage decrease of the price index. Inversely to inflation, deflation leads to a rise in the purchasing power of money. The aim of the SNB’s monetary policy is to avoid both inflation and deflation and thus ensure price stability.
Delivery versus payment
Delivery versus payment refers to the mechanism whereby reciprocal obligations from securities transactions are settled. It ensures that the financial instruments are irrevocably transferred if – and only if – payment takes place, thereby eliminating settlement risk.
A banknote series consists of different denominations, each with a different nominal value. The current banknote series has six denominations: the 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 1000 franc notes.
The Swiss National Bank is divided into three departments. Each department has a specific area of business. Departments I and III are for the most part located in Zurich, while Department II is for the most part located in Berne.
The Banking Act requires all Swiss branches of banks and securities dealers to insure preferential deposits through the Esisuisse depositor protection scheme. If a bank or securities dealer in Switzerland becomes insolvent, other Esisuisse members will immediately provide the necessary funds, up to a total of CHF 6 billion. This solidarity arrangement ensures that the insolvent bank’s customers will receive their insured deposits within one month. Deposits are insured up to a maximum total value of CHF 100,000 per depositor. Banks’ contributions are reimbursed during the subsequent wind-down of the insolvent bank.
Derivatives are financial instruments whose price is derived from that of an underlying asset. Underlying assets can be commodities, securities such as shares or bonds, as well as exchange rates, interest rates and indices. Derivatives can also be based on the probability of the occurrence of certain events (e.g. default). Call and put options, forwards, futures and swaps are all examples of derivatives.
The distribution reserve serves as a buffer to help smooth the SNB’s annual profit distribution to the Confederation and the cantons and forms part of the SNB’s equity. While the SNB’s annual profit is subject to considerable fluctuation, the National Bank Act and the profit distribution agreement between the Federal Department of Finance and the SNB provide for a smoothing of distributions over several years. The difference between distributable annual profit and actual distribution of profits is balanced out via the distribution reserve.
Electronic money (e-money)
Electronic money, or e-money, describes electronically stored monetary value as represented by a claim on the issuer which is issued on receipt of funds for the purpose of making payment transactions, and which is accepted by a natural or legal person other than the electronic money issuer. This includes prepaid cards with multiple uses. E-money is an additional form of money alongside base money and commercial banks’ book money.
Emergency liquidity assistance
Based on the National Bank Act, the SNB also functions as lender of last resort. Under the emergency liquidity assistance arrangements, it can provide domestic banks with liquidity if they are no longer able to refinance their operations on the market. Emergency liquidity assistance is provided only if the bank or bank category seeking credit is of importance for the stability of the financial system and is solvent, and if the liquidity assistance is covered by sufficient collateral at all times. The SNB determines what collateral is sufficient. Apart from liquid bank assets, less liquid bank assets with high credit ratings may also serve as collateral, for instance, mortgage claims.
Enlarged Governing Board
euroSIC is a real-time gross settlement system (RTGS) and is used for euro payment transactions between Swiss financial institutions. euroSIC, which is essentially a copy of the Swiss franc SIC system, settles euro payments through the accounts of SECB Swiss Euro Clearing Bank. euroSIC is operated by SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd. By virtue of SECB Swiss Euro Clearing Bank’s access to TARGET2, euroSIC also facilitates the settlement of cross-border transactions in euros. Moreover, euroSIC is linked to the Swiss stock exchange (SIX Swiss Exchange) and the SECOM securities settlement system.
The exchange rate designates the rate at which two currencies are exchanged. It is expressed as the price of one currency in units of another currency. Expressing the price of a foreign currency unit in domestic currency terms is called direct quotation (e.g. CHF 0.91 per USD), expressing a domestic currency unit in foreign currency terms is known as indirect quotation (e.g. USD 1.12 per CHF). The external value corresponds to the exchange rate expressed in the indirect quotation. Direct quotation is what is normally used in Switzerland. An exchange rate adjusted for price developments in the countries concerned is known as the real exchange rate. If the exchange rate is measured against a basket of foreign currencies, this is called an effective exchange rate.
Exchange rate index
An exchange rate index combines the external value of the domestic currency against the currencies of trading partners to a single measure. The currencies are weighted in accordance with the significance of the trading partner for the domestic economy (weighted effective exchange rate). The nominal exchange rate index measures a currency’s nominal external value. If the domestic currency appreciates on average, the index rises. The real exchange rate index measures the real external value of the domestic currency. A rise in the index value indicates real-term appreciation of the domestic currency. This means real purchasing power increases on average.
The Executive Board is the highest executive body of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It has 24 members. The Swiss-led constituency is represented by Switzerland’s Executive Director at the IMF. The Swiss seat on the Executive Board is held alternately by a representative of the SNB and the Federal Department of Finance.
External value of money
Federal Act on Banks and Savings Banks
Federal Act on Currency and Payment Instruments
The Federal Act on Currency and Payment Instruments defines the Swiss franc as Switzerland’s currency, determines legal tender and governs banknote and coin matters.
Federal Act on International Monetary Assistance
Federal Act on the Swiss National Bank
Part of the balance of payments, the financial account shows the creation and settlement of cross-border financial claims and liabilities. Depending on the investment motive, a distinction is made between direct investments, portfolio investments, derivative financial instruments, reserve assets and other investments.
Financial market infrastructure
The financial market infrastructure comprises all systems used to clear and settle financial market transactions. In Switzerland, this includes the interbank payment system SIC (Swiss Interbank Clearing) (operated by SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd on behalf of the SNB), the system for trading securities on the Swiss stock exchange (SIX Swiss Exchange), the SECOM securities settlement system (SIX SIS Ltd) and the central counterparty SIX x-clear (SIX x-clear Ltd). The operators have merged to form SIX Ltd. The SNB monitors the financial market infrastructure and can impose minimum requirements on the operators.
Financial Market Supervisory Authority
A situation in which financial system participants are able to carry out their functions and are resilient to disruptions or disturbances. Financial stability is an important prerequisite for economic development and effective monetary policy implementation. Under the National Bank Act, the SNB has the task of contributing to the stability of the financial system.
Financial Stability Board (FSB)
The Financial Stability Board (FSB) brings together representatives of national authorities responsible for financial stability (central banks, regulatory authorities and finance ministries). In 2009, the G20 gave the FSB a mandate to promote financial stability and formulate appropriate regulatory and oversight measures. Since then, it has developed a number of reform proposals, including those aimed at alleviating the ‘too big to fail’ issue. The SNB has been involved in these efforts. In January 2013, the FSB became an association under Swiss law.
Financial Stability Report
In its Financial Stability Report, which is published annually, the SNB presents its assessment of the stability of Switzerland’s banking sector. For the SNB, the report is an important way to contribute to the stability of the financial system, and thereby fulfil its statutory mandate in this regard. The report highlights tensions or imbalances that might pose a threat to financial stability in the short or long term, and suggests appropriate action to deal with them.
Financial system stability
FINMA (Financial Market Supervisory Authority)
FINMA is responsible for the supervision of banks, insurance companies, stock exchanges, securities dealers, collective capital schemes, distributors and insurance intermediaries. As an independent authority, it acts to protect creditors, investors and insured persons, and to ensure the proper functioning of financial markets.
According to the SNB definitions of bank categories, foreign banks are made up of the foreign-controlled banks category and the branches of foreign banks category. Foreign-controlled banks are organised in accordance with Swiss law; a bank is deemed to be foreign-controlled if foreigners with a qualified participation in the bank directly or indirectly hold more than half of its voting shares, or if they exercise a controlling interest in any other manner. Branches of foreign banks are defined as branch offices that are legally dependent on foreign banks. Foreign banks constitute a mixed bank category with two features in common: most of their clients are situated abroad and they are engaged in international banking operations.
Foreign currency investments
Foreign currency investments is the term used to describe the SNB’s investments in the form of foreign bonds, shares and deposits at other central banks. Foreign currency investments are the most important asset in the SNB’s balance sheet and form part of its currency reserves.
Foreign exchange comprises financial claims denominated in foreign currency and payable abroad. Examples are foreign sight and time deposits and cheques denominated in foreign currency.
Foreign exchange market intervention
Foreign exchange market intervention occurs when a central bank buys or sells its domestic currency (spot or forward) for one or more foreign currencies with the goal of strengthening or weakening its own currency. For example, the SNB is using foreign exchange market intervention to enforce the minimum exchange rate.
Foreign exchange reserves
Foreign exchange swap
A foreign exchange swap is a combination of a spot transaction and a forward transaction with foreign currency. In a liquidity swap, the SNB buys foreign currency from commercial banks against Swiss francs for a fixed term and sells it to them, also for a fixed term. At the end of the term, the reverse transaction is carried out at a previously agreed exchange rate. Swaps can be drawn up with very flexible terms and conditions.
General Arrangements to Borrow (GAB)
In an exceptional crisis and in the event of a shortage of funds, the General Arrangements to Borrow (GAB) permit the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to borrow funds amounting to SDR 17 billion from the Group of Ten (G10) countries according to a distribution key agreed upon in advance. The GAB can only be activated if agreement has not been reached under the New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB). The IMF must be able to provide evidence for liquidity shortage and threats to the stability of the international monetary system. The SNB participates in the GAB and the NAB (since 1997) on behalf of Switzerland.
General Meeting of SNB Shareholders
The SNB’s annual General Meeting of Shareholders approves the SNB’s business and financial report and determines the dividend. The General Meeting of Shareholders also appoints five of the eleven Bank Council members. As it is stipulated in the National Bank Act that the SNB is a joint-stock company, shareholder rights are limited. SNB shares are listed on the Swiss stock exchange.
The Governing Board is the supreme management and executive body of the SNB. It consists of three people: the Chairman, the Vice Chairman and one additional member. The Governing Board is, among other things, responsible for monetary policy, asset management strategy and international monetary cooperation. The Enlarged Governing Board is made up of the three Governing Board members and their deputies, and is responsible for the strategic guidelines for the SNB’s business operations. The members of the Governing Board and their deputies are appointed for a term of office of six years by the Federal Council on the basis of a proposal by the Bank Council. Re-election is possible.
Gross domestic product (GDP)
The gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure of an economy’s value added. It measures the value of domestically produced goods and domestically rendered services, insofar as they are not used as inputs for the production of other goods and services. In other words, it measures added value. The GDP is often used as a reference for a country’s economic capacity. In Switzerland, the GDP is calculated by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) publishes a GDP estimate once every quarter. In connection with its monetary policy assessments, the SNB provides estimates of GDP developments for the current and the coming year.
Group of Ten
In economics, the term growth potential is used to describe long-term change in gross domestic product (GDP) at a normal utilisation level of productive capacity. In other words, growth potential represents the change in potential output. An output gap arises when actual GDP falls below growth potential, i.e. capacity is underutilised. The opposite case is that of a production overhang, where capacity is overutilised.
Guidelines on monetary policy instruments
The ‘Guidelines of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) on monetary policy instruments’ describe the use of monetary policy instruments. They describe the instruments and procedures for implementing monetary policy under the monetary policy strategy. They set out in detail the transactions described in the National Bank Act which are at the SNB’s disposal for performing the monetary policy tasks assigned to it. In particular, they specify the terms on which the SNB concludes transactions and the procedures that are to be observed in such cases. Further, they specify the types of collateral that are eligible for monetary policy transactions involving the SNB.
The G7 became the G8 in 1998, when Russia became a member. The G7 continues to comment on certain topics.
The G8 is an international forum with a global focus. It comprises representatives of eight important economies, namely Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US. The presidency changes every year, and the heads of state and government meet at the annual G8 summit. Topics that are addressed encompass the entire spectrum of global politics. The G8, previously the G7, came into being in 1998, when Russia became a member.
The G10 is an association of advanced economies that, under the terms of the General Arrangements to Borrow (GAB), have been providing additional funds to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exceptional circumstances and in the event of funds shortages since 1962. The original members are Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and the US. Switzerland became an associated member in 1964 and a full member in 1983. The name G10, however, was retained.
The G20 is an informal association of 20 important advanced economies and emerging economies. It addresses international economic and financial issues. The G20 issued the Financial Stability Board (FSB) the mandate for furthering financial stability. Switzerland is not a member of the G20.
The G30 is a private international body founded in 1978. It consists of 30 influential persons from around the world, including central bank governors, representatives of regulatory authorities, economic policymakers, financial sector representatives and prominent economists. The G30 aims to contribute towards improving the understanding of global financial and economic issues.
The term hyperinflation designates an extremely high level of inflation, and is usually used when the monthly rate of inflation exceeds 50%. This corresponds to an annual inflation rate of 12875%.
Important monetary policy data
On the first business day of each week, the SNB publishes data from the previous week that are relevant for monetary policy. It communicates information on the implementation of monetary policy. The information includes data on the SNB reference interest rates, on the Swiss Average Rates (which are included in the Swiss Reference Rates), and on developments in the sight deposits and the duty to hold minimum reserves.
Independence of the SNB
According to the Federal Constitution and the National Bank Act, the SNB has sole responsibility for monetary policy decision-making and may not seek or accept instructions from other authorities. This independence is intended to ensure that monetary policy is not subverted to short-term political interests. The more independent a central bank, the better it fulfils its mandate. Since monetary policy takes effect with a considerable time lag, central banks must be credible. Independence is a necessary prerequisite for a central bank to develop this credibility. It goes hand in hand with the SNB’s accountability to the Federal Council and parliament (accountability report), and the requirement to provide the public with regular information.
Inflation is a sustained increase in the general price level which continues over a longer period of time, corresponding to a loss of the purchasing power of money. However, changes in the prices of individual products (goods and services) or groups of products which reflect a change in the relationship between market demand and supply are not synonymous with inflation. In Switzerland, inflation is measured using the national consumer price index (CPI). The rate of inflation expresses the percentage increase in this index. The target of the SNB’s monetary policy is to avoid both inflation and deflation, and thereby to ensure price stability.
Interest is the return for making a sum of money available for a certain period. It is owed by the debtor to the creditor. Interest is expressed as a percentage of the sum made available (interest rate) and usually refers to a time period of one year. The interest rate evolves according to supply and demand in the money market and capital markets. Its level is also influenced by the duration for which the money is made available and the financial standing (creditworthiness and solvency) of the debtor.
An adjustment of the nominal interest rate for the loss of purchasing power due to inflation leads to the real interest rate. It is thus calculated as the difference between the nominal interest rate and the inflation rate. In other words, the real interest rate is the return on investments adjusted for inflation or the borrowing costs adjusted for inflation respectively.
Interest rate curve
Interest rate structure
Interest rate structure is a function (curve) which relates the return on fixed-income investments of the same quality to their (residual) maturities (terms). The interest rate structure curve, the graphic representation of the interest rate structure, can be rising (normal), falling (inverse) or flat. A falling curve for government bonds usually indicates an impending recession. Usually the interest rate curve rises, since investors demand a risk premium – and thereby a higher yield – for bonds with longer maturities. The reason for the risk premium is that unforeseen changes in interest rates result in greater price fluctuations in longer-term bonds than in shorter-term bonds.
Interest rate swaps
An interest rate swap is an financial instrument whereby for a specific time period and for a specified nominal value variable interest payments are exchanged against fixed interest payments. The SNB uses interest rate swaps to hedge against interest rate risks in its foreign currency investments.
The interim banknotes were the first banknotes issued by the SNB in 1907 and were similar to those of the former issuing banks (the cantonal banks). They circulated alongside the older banknotes for an interim period of three years. From 20 June 1910, only SNB banknotes were legal tender. In September 1911, the first banknotes developed by the SNB itself were issued.
Internal value of money
International investment position
Switzerland’s international investment position shows Switzerland’s assets and liabilities abroad and Switzerland’s net international investment position. The international investment position is made up of direct investment, portfolio investment, derivative financial instruments and structured products as well as other assets and liabilities. The assets side also contains the reserve assets.
International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC)
The International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) is the most important management body at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It holds half-yearly meetings. Switzerland’s interests in this committee are represented by the Head of the Federal Department of Finance.
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are the Bretton Woods institutions. The IMF was founded in 1945 with the objective of promoting international cooperation in the field of currency policy and facilitating balanced growth in world trade. Today, practically all of the world’s sovereign states are members of the IMF. An important task of the IMF is the surveillance of the economic policies of its member countries within the framework of the Article IV consultations. In addition, the IMF extends loans to countries with balance of payments difficulties. The IMF supports poor countries under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, PRGT. It is also heavily involved in resolving the European sovereign debt crisis. In exceptional crisis situations, the IMF has access to funds under the General Arrangements to Borrow (GAB) and the New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB), in addition to funding through quotas. The IMF also provides technical assistance. Switzerland has been a member of the IMF since 1992 and heads a constituency. The Federal Department of Finance and the SNB represent Switzerland’s interests at the IMF jointly.
International Monetary Fund quotas
Every member country in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) holds a capital subscription, or quota, denominated in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). The IMF determines a member country’s quota on the basis of various economic parameters for that country (gross domestic product, current account receipts and expenses and their variability, currency reserves). Quotas are the primary source of IMF funds. They determine the maximum loan amount a country can normally obtain from the IMF. Furthermore, the quota defines a member country’s voting power in the IMF and determines the allocation when new SDRs are distributed. The IMF must conduct a general review of quotas in intervals of five years at most and make any necessary changes. At present, the Swiss quota amounts to SDR 3.5 billion and is likely to be increased to SDR 5.8 billion as part of the current IMF reform. However, the quota share will decline from 1.45% to 1.21%.
International Monetary Fund reserve position
The SNB reserve position in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) corresponds to the portion of the quota drawn by the IMF. It can be likened to a currency reserve which may be used as such by the SNB at any time.
Under the standing facilities, the SNB provides its business partners with liquidity during the day to facilitate processing of payment transactions in SIC and foreign exchange transactions in Continuous Linked Settlement (CLS). This liquidity is provided interest-free to business partners and must be covered by collateral eligible for SNB repos.
An intraday loan is a loan with a term of less than one business day. The aim of this loan is to facilitate smooth payment processes in payment systems. Central banks generally grant intraday loans free of interest. The SNB makes intraday loans available to banks under the intraday facility.
Investment policy guidelines
The ‘Investment policy guidelines of the Swiss National Bank (SNB)’ detail the transactions described in the National Bank Act which the SNB may enter into in order to perform its investment policy tasks. They define the scope of the SNB’s investment activity. In addition to investment policy principles and details on the investment instruments, the guidelines also lay down specifications for the investment and risk control process.
According to the Federal Act on Currency and Payment Instruments, legal tender in Switzerland comprises coins issued by central government, banknotes issued by the SNB, and SNB sight deposits in Swiss francs. In general, legal tender must be unconditionally accepted as payment, unless contractual arrangements have been made to the contrary.
Lender of last resort
The leverage ratio measures the level of indebtedness of a bank. It is the ratio of equity to the sum of all assets, although these are not risk-weighted. As a rule, the higher the leverage ratio, the more resilient the bank in a crisis.
Libor, London Interbank Offered Rate
Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) refers to the interest rate for unsecured money market loans between the most important, globally active banks. Shortly before 11 am on each bank business day, these banks report to the British Bankers’ Association the interest rate at which they are able to obtain unsecured money market loans in marketable size on the London interbank market. The top and bottom quartile reported rates are disregarded, and an average is calculated on the basis of the remaining interest rates. The figure obtained in this manner is fixed and published as the Libor for the day in question. Libors are specified for different currencies and maturities. The SNB uses the three-month Libor for the Swiss franc as its reference interest rate and, by steering it indirectly, implements its monetary policy. It has recently emerged that some Libors were not being truthfully reported by certain banks. The distortions uncovered to date have had no impact in terms of SNB monetary policy.
Liquidity is defined as the ability to meet all claims that fall due, at any time and without restriction. Under the Banking Act, Swiss banks must ensure that they hold sufficient liquidity. Accordingly, a bank or group of banks is referred to as illiquid if it does not have sufficient liquid assets to meet all short-term claims. A bank can be solvent but nonetheless illiquid: while it may have sufficient assets to cover all debts and not be over-indebted, it may not have sufficient liquid assets to meet all short-term liabilities. To manage their liquidity, banks depend on the money market. By managing the liquidity on the money market, the SNB implements its monetary policy.
Liquidity-shortage financing facility
The liquidity-shortage financing facility is a line of credit for commercial banks to cover their short-term funding shortfalls, and is provided by the SNB as part of its standing facilities. The facility can be accessed via special-rate repo transactions, up to the limit set by the SNB. The liquidity-shortage financing facility is part of the SNB’s set of monetary policy instruments, but is not an open market operation.
Liquidity swap agreements
Liquidity swap agreements between the SNB and other central banks enable the SNB to provide financial market participants in Switzerland with the foreign currency – mainly US dollars – that they need. They also allow the SNB to provide Swiss francs to central banks abroad, who are then, in turn, able to make these Swiss francs available to their counterparties.
Macroprudential measures aim to safeguard or restore the stability of a financial system. This is accomplished by strengthening the resilience of the financial system and by countering the accumulation of systemic risk. Macroprudential measures affect the Swiss banking sector as a whole, and not just individual financial market participants. A good example is the countercyclical capital buffer, which was introduced in Switzerland on 1 July 2012.
Minimum exchange rate
A minimum exchange rate is a defined lower limit for an exchange rate on a foreign exchange market. On 6 September 2011, the SNB set a minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro, meaning that from that point onwards, the SNB would not allow the exchange rate to fall below this level. The SNB continues to enforce this minimum rate with the utmost determination, and to this end, is prepared to buy foreign currency in unlimited quantities (foreign exchange market intervention). The minimum exchange rate is not to be confused with pegging the Swiss franc to another currency. It aims to minimise the threat to the economy associated with the substantial overvaluation of the Swiss franc, including the risk of deflation. The minimum exchange rate also allows the SNB to ensure monetary conditions appropriate for the Swiss economy in an environment in which interest rates are close to zero.
In order to facilitate the smooth functioning of the money market, banks are required to hold a certain percentage of their Swiss franc short-term liabilities in minimum reserves. Valid minimum reserves comprise Swiss franc coins, banknotes and sight deposits held at the SNB. Details on fulfilment of the minimum reserve requirement are available in the ‘Important monetary policy data’ publication.
Monetary Assistance Act
The Federal Act on International Monetary Assistance (Monetary Assistance Act) enables Switzerland to participate in financial assistance aimed at preventing or remedying serious disruptions in the international monetary system (systemic assistance). This law also forms the basis for Switzerland’s participation in special funds of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), especially for the financing of loans to low-income countries at concessional interest rates via the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, and enables the granting of loans to countries with which Switzerland cooperates particularly closely. The Federal Council may commission the SNB to finance loans for systemic aid, with the Confederation guaranteeing repayment. It may also mandate the SNB – subject to the latter’s approval – to assume responsibility for the participation in special funds of the IMF, with the repayment of the loan also guaranteed by the Confederation. Short or medium-term loans granted to individual countries that cooperate closely with Switzerland are financed by the Confederation. The Federal Decree on International Monetary Assistance provides a credit ceiling of CHF 10 billion for the financing of guarantees and loans within the context of bilateral and multilateral monetary relations.
The monetary base is composed of the sum of banknotes in circulation plus sight deposits of domestic commercial banks held at the SNB. Other terms used for the monetary base include the M0 monetary supply and monetary stock.
Monetary conditions are shaped by interest rates and by the exchange rate. The SNB maintains price stability by ensuring that monetary conditions are appropriate for the Swiss economy.
Monetary policy is the implementation of monetary policy instruments by the central bank to achieve economic policy goals. Monetary policy is therefore an area of economic policy. SNB monetary policy aims at allowing the economy to make full use of its production capacity without jeopardising price stability in the medium term. Its instruments include, in particular, open market operations (repo transactions, foreign exchange swaps, the purchase and sale of foreign exchange and securities) as well as standing facilities (liquidity-shortage financing facility, intraday facility).
Monetary policy assessment
As a rule, the SNB conducts an in-depth monetary policy assessment every quarter. Based on a detailed analysis of the economic situation, the inflation forecast and the growth assessment are updated and a monetary policy decision is reached.
Monetary policy instruments
The SNB’s monetary policy instruments comprise the operations and measures, as laid out in the National Bank Act and the ‘Guidelines on monetary policy instruments’, that it requires to carry out its monetary policy. These include open market operations (repo transactions, foreign exchange swaps, foreign exchange market interventions, the issuance and repurchase of SNB Bills) as well as the liquidity-shortage financing facility and the intraday facility.
Monetary policy strategy
The monetary policy strategy refers to the manner in which the SNB aims to fulfil its statutory mandate of ensuring price stability. The strategy, which has been in place since December 1999, consists of three elements: a definition of price stability, a conditional inflation forecast over the subsequent twelve quarters, and a target range for the reference interest rate (the three-month Swiss franc Libor). Since 6 September 2011, a minimum exchange rate for the euro against the Swiss franc has also applied.
In Switzerland, monetary sovereignty is held by the Swiss Confederation, which entitles it to pass statutes on the banknote and coinage system (i.e. determine the currency unit, designate the authority responsible for issuing the money, determine denominations, etc.). In the National Bank Act, the Confederation confers the exclusive right to issue banknotes (note-issuing privilege) on the SNB. Further provisions on the banknote and coinage system are contained in the Federal Act on Currency and Payment Instruments.
The term monetary stability has two dimensions: In the domestic economy, monetary stability is usually equated with price level stability and implies a constant level of domestic purchasing power of money (value of money). In the external dimension, by contrast, monetary stability implies the stability of the nominal exchange rate.
Monetary value is the purchasing power of money and expresses the volume of goods that can be bought for a monetary unit. A distinction may be made between the internal and external value of money. The internal value corresponds to the reverse value of the price level. When the price level rises, the volume of goods that can be purchased for a monetary unit decreases, and vice versa. Consequently, the price level and purchasing power of money always exhibit contrary development. The external value of money is the amount of foreign currency which can be purchased for a domestic monetary unit. The external value corresponds to the exchange rate in the indirect quotation.
Money is the generally accepted medium of exchange. It also serves as a store of value and unit of account (measure of value). In Switzerland, banknotes and coins (cash), as well as book money, are all referred to as money.
This is the process by which money is created. On the one hand, the SNB is entitled to create money, because of its note-issuing privilege. On the other, commercial banks can create book money, by granting loans. Their means of creating book money are determined by the requirements of Swiss law regarding minimum reserves, and by the SNB’s readiness to increase or reduce the money supply. Using its monetary policy instruments, the SNB indirectly steers interest rates on the money market, and thereby also the supply of money in Switzerland, via the demand for credit (higher interest rates means lower demand for credit and less money creation, and vice versa).
The money market is the market for raising and investing short-term liquidity. Short-term liquidity is defined as liquidity with a term of up to one year (for longer-term investments, cf. capital market). Loans are not covered on the unsecured money market, and covered on the secured money market (e.g. via repo transactions). By steering the liquidity on the secured Swiss franc money market, the SNB implements its monetary policy. Banks use the money market to balance and manage their liquidity. Commercial banks conduct money market transactions with each other on the interbank market.
Money market debt register claims (MMDRCs)
Money market debt register claims (MMDRCs) are a money market instrument with which the Swiss Confederation raises short-term funds. First issued by the Confederation in 1979, MMDRCs have since become firmly established in the Swiss money market. As a rule, maturities range from three to twelve months. Interest on MMDRCs is paid on a discount basis, i.e. the debt register claims are issued below or above par (where par is equivalent to 100%) and repaid at nominal value. MMDRC issues are effected in the form of auctions, which are carried out by the SNB, as banker to the Confederation.
M0 monetary aggregate
M1 monetary aggregate
The SNB defines the M1 monetary aggregate as the sum of the currency in circulation, sight deposits held by the resident public at banks, plus savings and deposit accounts used mainly for payments (transaction deposits).
M2 monetary aggregate
The SNB defines the M2 monetary aggregate as the sum of the M1 monetary aggregate plus savings deposits. Excluded from the savings deposits are pension fund monies invested in schemes with restricted terms and tax benefits within the framework of the mandatory occupational pension scheme (pillar 2), individual pension schemes that are voluntary (pillar 3), and the transaction deposits in M1.
M3 monetary aggregate
The SNB defines the M3 monetary aggregate as the sum of the M2 monetary aggregate plus time deposits (vis-à-vis creditors and money market instruments).
National Bank Act (NBA)
The National Bank Act (NBA, Federal Act on the Swiss National Bank) is the legal basis underlying the SNB’s activities as Switzerland’s central bank. It contains provisions relating to the SNB as joint-stock company, its organisation and its tasks.
National Bank Ordinance
Netting is the agreed offsetting of reciprocal positions or liabilities by counterparties or system participants. It reduces a large number of individual positions or liabilities to a smaller number of positions or liabilities.
New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB)
The New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB) represent a financial safety net for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In addition to its regular resources, the IMF can be provided with up to SDR 370 billion by means of NAB. NAB are activated for a specified period (six months at most) and a specified amount. The amount activated is based on an estimate by the IMF of the expected contingent liabilities. There are now 40 member countries participating in the NAB. The SNB takes part in the NAB on behalf of Switzerland.
Nominal interest rate
The National Bank Act gives the SNB the exclusive right to issue Swiss banknotes. The SNB thus holds the banknote monopoly. The SNB issued its first banknotes on 20 June 1907, on the day it took up business (interim banknotes).
Switzerland is a founding member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Together with the federal government, the SNB represents Switzerland on various committees. Every two years, the OECD performs a detailed analysis of the economy of every member country.
Open market operations
An open market operation is the purchase or sale of securities or other claims on the money market or capital market by a central bank. In contrast to standing facilities, the use of open market operations is initiated by the central bank, rather than a commercial bank. The SNB mainly uses open market operations, which belong to the monetary policy instruments, to manage the monetary base and thereby implement its monetary policy. Open market operations of practical relevance for the SNB include repo transactions, foreign exchange market interventions, foreign exchange swaps and securities transactions.
Over-the-counter (OTC) trading
Securities transactions not conducted via a stock exchange are referred to as over-the-counter (OTC) trading. Many derivatives, too, are traded on so-called OTC derivatives markets. Due to their strong international interconnectedness, large trade volumes and default risks, OTC derivatives markets constitute a potential threat to the stability of the financial system. The G20 and the Financial Stability Board (FSB) have therefore compiled recommendations to increase the transparency, integrity and stability of the OTC derivatives markets. In particular, the intention is to have standardised OTC derivatives cleared through central counterparties.
Payment versus payment
Payment versus payment is a mechanism in a foreign exchange settlement system which ensures that a final transfer of one currency occurs if, and only if, a final transfer of the other currency takes place simultaneously (e.g. in Continuous Linked Settlement), thereby eliminating performance risk.
Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT)
The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) PRGT provides loans to low-income member countries at preferential terms. The PRGT is financed through bilateral contributions and through the IMF’s own resources. The SNB finances the Swiss contribution to the PRGT capital. The Confederation guarantees the SNB the timely repayment of the loans, including interest; it also finances the interest rate subsidies.
The price level is the weighted average of a number of goods prices in an economy. It is measured on the basis of a defined basket of goods which reflects the goods (goods and services) produced or consumed in the economy. A stable price level does not necessarily mean that individual prices are stable. For instance, when the prices of some goods rise they may be balanced out by a fall in the prices of other goods so that, overall, the price level remains unchanged. A rise in the price level signifies a decline in the purchasing power of money, i.e., on average, one monetary unit will buy a smaller number of goods units. Consequently, the price level and the value of money always move in opposite directions. In Switzerland, the national consumer price index (CPI) is the most important indicator for measuring the price level.
Under the National Bank Act, the SNB is committed to the objective of price stability. According to the SNB definition, price stability is considered to prevail when the annual average inflation level, as measured by the national consumer price index (CPI), is below 2%, and there is also no deflation. The SNB is required to conduct its monetary policy in a manner that ensures price stability, while taking due account of economic developments.
According to the SNB definition of bank categories, most private bankers work in the field of asset management; their partners are jointly and severally liable.
Profit distribution agreement
The Federal Department of Finance (FDF) and the SNB agree on the profit distribution for a certain number of years, in order to smooth the SNB’s profit distribution payments. The profit distribution agreement is based on the National Bank Act, which stipulates that one-third of distributable profit is allocated to the Confederation and two-thirds to the cantons. In November 2011, the SNB and the FDF concluded a new agreement, which is valid for the financial years 2011 to 2015.
Provisions for currency reserves
Provisions for currency reserves represent the most important component of the SNB’s equity capital. In accordance with the National Bank Act, the SNB sets up provisions to maintain the currency reserves at the level necessary for monetary policy. Independent of this financing function, the provisions have a general reserve function and serve as a buffer against the risk of loss.
Purchasing power of money
Purchasing power parity
Purchasing power parity is attained when the exchange rate is at the level where, for given price levels in two countries, the purchasing power of the two currencies is equivalent. Purchasing power parity is based on the law of one price, which is used to explain exchange rates.
According to the SNB definition of bank categories, Raiffeisen banks are regional banks with a legally independent status. They focus most of their business on traditional interest rate differentials between mortgages and corporate loans, on the one hand, and customer savings and deposits, on the other. Within the Raiffeisen group, Raiffeisen Switzerland takes on operational and strategic tasks and is the body bearing ultimate liability, while the member banks bear joint liability for one another.
Real rate of interest
Recall of banknotes
Under the Federal Act on Currency and Payment Instruments, the SNB can recall the current series of banknotes with effect from a given date if it is to be replaced by a new series. The SNB is obliged to exchange the recalled banknotes at their nominal value for 20 years. Recalled Swiss banknotes cease to be legal tender as of the date of recall.
According to a prevalent definition, a recession is a phase in the business cycle in which gross domestic product (GDP) declines for at least two quarters in succession.
Regional banks and savings banks
According to the SNB definition of bank categories, most regional banks and saving banks focus on savings and mortgage business. Their business is very similar to that of the smaller cantonal banks, although the geographic scope of their activities is generally less extensive. Some of the regional banks belong to the association of Swiss regional banks, the RBA Holding, which acts as an umbrella organisation, providing the banks with various services. However, members of the Holding continue to operate as independent banks.
In a repo transaction, the cash taker sells securities to the cash provider and simultaneously agrees to repurchase securities of the same type and quantity at a later date. The interest rate used in a repo transaction is called the repo rate. Repo transactions are an important SNB monetary policy instrument for managing liquidity in the money market. The SNB only accepts securities which it defines as collateral eligible for SNB repos (sufficient collateral).
Reserve series are banknote series which have never been put into circulation. In Switzerland, the 4th and 7th series are considered reserve series. These series would have been used if large numbers of counterfeits of the current banknotes had come into circulation. In this situation, the SNB would have replaced the counterfeit denomination or series.
In connection with financial stability, resolution refers to the orderly wind-down of a bank. The issues addressed by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) include resolution procedures for global systemically important banks. If a resolution of this kind can be achieved, financial stability is likely to be strengthened.
SECB Swiss Euro Clearing Bank
The SECB is a Frankfurt-based bank set up by Swiss banks to facilitate payment transactions in euros, both within Switzerland and between Switzerland and EU countries. The SECB, which is subject to German banking supervision, maintains the accounts through which euroSIC performs settlement, monitors the settlement process and manages the provision of liquidity. euroSIC is operated by SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd. Among other things, SECB settles SEPA-compliant payments and has access to the European large-value payment and gross settlement systems (TARGET2).
Securities are instruments traded on the money market and the capital market. They include shares, debt securities, Pfandbriefe and other bonds. For its repo transactions, the SNB accepts only highly rated and very liquid securities as collateral (sufficient collateral). The ‘List of collateral eligible for SNB repos’ shows which securities are accepted as collateral by the SNB.
Security features of banknotes
Security features are designed to prevent counterfeits as far as possible. The features are defined in the security concept. The current Swiss banknotes incorporate the following six features that can be recognised and verified easily: the moving number, the magic number, the coloured number, the chameleon number, the glittering number and the perforated number. In addition, the banknotes have other security features, such as the security thread and the watermark.
Seigniorage refers to the income that central banks derive from the note-issuing privilege. The SNB also earns seigniorage because it can fund its assets very cheaply – via banknote circulation and sight deposits – owing to its banknote monopoly. A large proportion of seigniorage is absorbed by the profit distribution to the Confederation and the cantons (profit distribution agreement).
SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area)
SEPA is a project to harmonise bulk payments in euros; the aim is that payments within SEPA – whose members are the 27 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland – should be carried out at the same terms and conditions (crediting and fees) as those previously applied to domestic payments. SEPA payments are always carried out in euros and must meet certain criteria.
In a financial transaction, settlement is the fulfilment of a payment or delivery obligation, i.e. the payment transfer or the transfer of the securities from the transmitting bank to the recipient bank.
SIC (Swiss Interbank Clearing)
SIC (Swiss Interbank Clearing) is the Swiss electronic interbank payment system, which has been operated since 1987 on behalf of the SNB by SIX Interbank Clearing Ltd, a subsidiary of SIX Ltd. It is a real-time gross settlement system (RTGS) with a queuing mechanism. Payments are processed individually and sequentially, i.e. on a gross basis, and the SIC participants’ settlement accounts are fed from their sight deposit accounts at the SNB. At end-2012, SIC had 380 participants, settling both large-value and retail payments in Swiss francs through the system. SIC is an important element of the Swiss Value Chain.
Domestic commercial banks hold non-interest-bearing sight deposits at the SNB. These sight deposits are valid as legal tender. The commercial banks’ demand for sight deposits emanates from the statutory liquidity regulations and from the need for working balances in interbank cashless payment transactions (SIC). The SNB controls the supply of sight deposits by means of its monetary policy instruments, with which it steers the liquidity of the banking system. The sight deposits of foreign banks and institutions held at the SNB are used to settle payment transactions in Swiss francs.
Sight deposit account
SIX Ltd (www.six-group.com/en/home.html) provides infrastructure services for domestic and international participants in the Swiss financial marketplace. The company’s activities span securities trading, securities services, financial information, card services, and payment and settlement. SIX Ltd resulted from the merger of SWX Group, SIS Group and Telekurs Group at the beginning of 2008 and, as an internationally active infrastructure company, is a key element in the Swiss financial marketplace.
Debt certificates issued by the SNB with a term of up to one year. SNB Bills have been part of the set of monetary policy instruments since October 2007, and are used to absorb liquidity as part of the SNB’s steering of sight deposits. In connection with the measures taken to combat the strength of the Swiss franc, the SNB suspended the issuance of SNB Bills in August 2011.
The agencies are cash distribution services operated by cantonal banks on behalf of the SNB. They are responsible for the issuance and redemption of cash in their region. The SNB’s network of cash distribution services comprises two SNB bank offices in Zurich and Berne and 14 agencies.
SNB inflation forecast
The inflation forecast is a forecast of movements in the inflation rate over the coming three years which the SNB releases once a quarter at its monetary policy assessment. It is conditional, because it is based on the assumption that the SNB will not change the key rate over the forecast horizon. The SNB bases its monetary policy decision on the inflation forecast and can thus react to signs of any divergence from price stability.
SNB investment policy
A bank or group of banks is solvent if it meets the capital adequacy regulations currently in force. In particular, this condition implies that it has sufficient assets to meet all its obligations. Only if a bank or group of banks is solvent, i.e. holds sufficient regulatory capital, can the SNB provide emergency liquidity assistance. To assess solvency, the SNB obtains an opinion from FINMA.
Special Drawing Right (SDR)
The Special Drawing Right (SDR) is the unit of account and means of payment for transactions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A currency basket whose composition is reviewed every five years determines the value of the SDR. The basket currencies comprise the US dollar, the euro, the yen and the pound sterling. At the end of 2012, one SDR was equivalent to CHF 1.40.
Stabilisation fund (StabFund)
The stabilisation fund (StabFund) is a limited partnership for collective investment set up by the SNB to take over the illiquid assets of UBS. The transfer of illiquid UBS assets to the stabilisation fund in autumn 2008 was part of a package of measures implemented by the Confederation and the SNB to support UBS, which had been weakened by the financial crisis. The SNB’s contribution to the support measures was provided as part of its emergency liquidity assistance.
Stagflation is the term used to describe an economic situation in which overall production sinks while at the same time the price level rises. The term stagflation is a combination of (economic) stagnation and inflation.
Standing facilities are part of the SNB’s set of monetary policy instruments and are used for providing liquidity. In contrast to open market operations, the use of standing facilities is initiated not by the SNB, but by a commercial bank. Standing facilities include the liquidity-shortage financing facility and the intraday facility.
Stock exchange banks
According to the SNB definitions of bank categories, stock exchange banks are institutions specialising in stock exchange, securities and asset management business.
In accordance with art. 9 para. 1 (e) of the National Bank Act, the SNB may enter into credit transactions with banks and other financial market participants on condition that sufficient collateral is provided for the loans. Only securities that fulfil stringent requirements with regard to credit rating and liquidity are accepted as collateral by the SNB. The criteria for the acceptance of securities are detailed in the ‘Instruction sheet on collateral eligible for SNB repos’. Only those securities included in the ‘List of collateral eligible for SNB repos’ may be pledged as collateral for repo transactions. The SNB decides whether securities will be included or excluded from the list of collateral.
SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication)
SWIFT is a cooperative organisation created by banks that operates a network which facilitates the exchange of payment and other financial messages between financial institutions throughout the world. The SNB is involved in the monitoring of SWIFT, focusing on those SWIFT activities that are relevant for financial stability and the proper functioning of the financial market infrastructure.
Swiss Confederation bonds
A federal bond is a fixed-interest debt certificate (bond issue) of the Swiss Confederation employed by the Confederation for medium and long-term borrowing in the capital market. Swiss Confederation bond issues are effected by auction. As banker to the Confederation, the SNB carries out these auctions. After they have been allocated, Swiss Confederation bonds can be traded on the Swiss stock exchange.
Swiss finish is a term used to describe the Swiss regulations on financial stability, which go beyond the internationally agreed minimum requirements established by Basel III, in particular as regards capital requirements.
In 1998, the Federal Mint was renamed swissmint (www.swissmint.ch/en-homepage.homepage.html). The 1848 Federal Constitution transferred the right to mint coins from the cantons to the Confederation. In 1855, the Confederation took over the ‘Berner Münzstätte’ (the old Bernese mint), which became responsible for supplying the country with the necessary coins. Since 1 January 1998, swissmint has been an independent unit of the Federal Finance Administration.
Swiss National Bank (SNB)
The Swiss National Bank (SNB) conducts the country’s monetary policy as an independent central bank. It is obliged by the Federal Constitution and by the National Bank Act to act in accordance with the interests of the country as a whole. Its primary goal is to ensure price stability, while taking due account of economic developments. In so doing, it creates an appropriate environment for economic growth.
Swiss Reference Rates (SRR)
The Swiss Reference Rates (SRR) were developed jointly by the SNB and SIX Swiss Exchange in 2009 as benchmark rates for the secured money market. The SRR are calculated by SIX Swiss Exchange on the basis of data from the interbank market for repo transactions in Swiss francs on the Eurex Zurich exchange. The most important SRR is SARON, the volume-weighted average rate for secured call money, which is based on concluded transactions and negotiable quotes on the Swiss franc repo interbank market on the relevant business day.
Swiss Value Chain
The link between the SECOM securities settlement system, the SIX trading system and SIC has existed since 1996, and is known as the Swiss Value Chain. By linking these systems, it is possible to ensure that securities settlement is performed according to the delivery versus payment principle.
Systemically important banks
Under the terms of the Banking Act, a bank or group of banks is systemically important if its failure would cause serious damage to the Swiss economy and the Swiss financial system. Systemically important banks in Switzerland must comply with special requirements (too big to fail), which go beyond the minimum standards established by Basel III (Swiss finish). The Banking Act gives the SNB the mandate to identify banks and bank functions as systemically important, following consultation with FINMA. At the international level, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board (FSB) have defined globally systemically important financial institutions – a category to which both the Swiss big banks currently belong – which will in future have to meet additional capital requirements over and above the minimum standards established by Basel III.
Systemically important financial market infrastructures
The financial market infrastructures which could pose risks to financial stability, and which are therefore systemically important, currently include the SIC system, the SECOM securities settlement system and the central counterparty SIX x-clear. The operators of these financial market infrastructures must meet specific minimum requirements defined by the SNB.
A systemic crisis in the financial system is a systemic event which affects either a few major institutions or a large number of institutions, so that the general functioning of the financial system (or major parts thereof) is impaired (financial stability).
In the financial system, a systemic event, in the strict sense of the term, is when problems at a financial institution lead to serious problems at other financial institutions or on a market. In the broader sense, the term also applies to events affecting several financial institutions simultaneously, e.g. a stock market crash in which all banks with an equity exposure suffer losses.
TARGET (Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross Settlement Express Transfer System)
From 1999 to 2007, TARGET provided the link between the national payment systems of the EU; it was replaced by TARGET2.
TARGET2 (Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross Settlement Express Transfer System)
On 19 November 2007, the EU-wide large-value payment system TARGET was replaced by the new TARGET2 shared platform. As a result, 16 national real-time gross settlement systems, which had previously been linked via TARGET, ceased to operate. TARGET2 facilitates the implementation of the European Central Bank’s monetary policy, and represents a further step towards a fully harmonised and consolidated payments area as part of European Monetary Union.
TARGET2 Securities (T2S)
TARGET2 Securities (T2S) is a technical platform, developed by the European Central Bank with the aim of linking the existing national securities settlement systems of central securities depositories and permitting the settlement of national and cross-border securities transactions in central bank money according to the delivery versus payment principle. T2S is scheduled to go into operation in 2015, and is aimed, in particular, at reducing the cost of cross-border securities settlement in Europe. The Swiss franc is currently not available as a settlement currency in T2S.
Technical assistance to central banks includes the transfer of knowledge specific to central banks, and contributes to maintaining good relations between central banks worldwide. The SNB provides technical assistance upon request to the central banks of developing countries and emerging economies.
A service organisation owned by Swiss banks, its main focus is on financial information, electronic payment media and payment systems (SIC). In 2008, Telekurs Group merged with SWX Group and SIS Group to form SIX Ltd.
Too big to fail
A bank is described as ‘too big to fail’ if its failure would have serious consequences for the functioning of the domestic or global financial system, and for the economy, meaning that, in the event of a crisis, the state would be forced to intervene to rescue the bank. Recommendations on alleviating the ‘too big to fail’ issue are at the heart of reform proposals issued by the Financial Stability Board (FSB). In the areas of capital, organisation, liquidity and risk diversification, Switzerland has issued regulations which have considerably reduced the systemic risk associated with the ‘too big to fail’ issue.
Total sight deposits
In addition to sight deposits of domestic banks, total sight deposits at the SNB include sight liabilities towards the Confederation, sight deposits of foreign banks and institutions, as well as other sight liabilities.
Transfers in the balance of payments designate counter-entries for the provision of economic values performed without compensation. A distinction is made between current transfers in the current account and those shown under capital transfers, which represent a category of their own.
Under a two-way arrangement, the SNB undertakes towards the International Monetary Fund (IWF) to purchase or sell Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) against foreign currency up to an agreed maximum. The SDRs purchased are shown in the SNB’s balance sheet as international payment instruments.
The rate of unemployment is the relationship between the number of unemployed people and the number of people in the labour force, expressed as a percentage.
Unemployment, natural level
The natural level of unemployment is the level which is achieved when the overall economy is in long-term equilibrium, and which is compatible with constant inflation.
Banks which are active in all areas of banking business. Universal banks are not a bank category in the sense of the SNB’s definitions.
Value of money
The World Bank is one of the two Bretton Woods institutions. Founded in 1945, it is the main agency for channelling development aid funds. The World Bank borrows funds on the international money and capital markets. It is the main subsidiary of the World Bank Group. Switzerland has been a member of the World Bank since 1992. Switzerland’s interests are represented by the Confederation.
World Bank Group
The World Bank Group consists of the World Bank, the International Development Association, the International Finance Corporation, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The World Bank Group’s central mission is to promote economic and social progress in poorer countries. Most countries of the world, including Switzerland, are members of the World Bank Group.
After the statutory conversion period of 20 years, recalled banknotes become worthless and can no longer be exchanged. The countervalue of the banknotes not submitted for exchange will be remitted to the Swiss Fund for Emergency Losses. Worthless banknotes may still have collectors’ value, however, and are traded by numismatists, antique shops and banks, with the price depending on supply and demand as well as on the condition of the banknotes. The SNB does not trade in worthless banknotes.