Questions and answers on regional economic relations
How long has the Swiss National Bank had regional representative offices?
The SNB has maintained a regional presence through its network of branches and representative offices since it commenced activities in 1907. Over the years, it has adapted this network to the requirements of monetary policy and banking operations.
Why is Switzerland divided into eight regions for the purposes of economic monitoring?
The division into eight regions is mainly historical in nature. Originally, the SNB maintained bank offices with their own cash desks in various cities. In the ongoing process of streamlining cash distribution, these cashier's offices have been gradually reduced to two (in the Berne and Zurich head offices). In most of the locations, however, the SNB still maintains a regional office in order to exercise a presence in the various parts of the country and to cultivate contacts with local businesses.
The delegates' tasks
What are the tasks of the delegates for regional economic relations?
The delegates for regional economic relations represent the SNB in the various regions of Switzerland. Their task is twofold: On the one hand, they conduct regular one-to-one talks with company management to gather information on the course of business, thereby providing the SNB with an up-to-date impression of current economic conditions and the business outlook from the vantage point of companies. This information flows into regular economic analyses for the attention of the Governing Board. On the other hand, the delegates also function as ambassadors of the SNB, explaining - and thus cultivating an understanding of - its monetary policy to industry, local authorities and the general public. They give presentations on monetary policy, for example at schools, universities, universities of applied sciences and associations. The delegates are supported in their tasks by the Regional Economic Councils.
Why does the SNB conduct talks with companies?
The SNB needs to maintain contacts with businesses in Switzerland. Its company talks are one-to-one discussions between the delegates and company management. In this way, the SNB collects information - from a specific monetary policy perspective - on the course of business and the outlook of the companies and industries concerned, and also informs participants - via the delegates - of its monetary policy. The talks are primarily carried out to sample the general mood of companies. Where necessary, the SNB can also use this avenue to explore specific topics by means of special surveys, e.g. 'Exchange rate survey: Effects of Swiss franc appreciation and company reactions' (Special reports).
How many company talks are conducted per year?
Each year, the eight delegates carry out four rounds of talks with company representatives comprising a total of approximately 1,000 discussions. Per quarter and region, each delegate visits around 30 companies over a seven-week period.
How are companies selected for the talks?
The selection of companies reflects the industry structure of each particular regional economy based on gross domestic product and employment. Industries subject to stronger cyclical fluctuations are slightly over-represented, while public administration and agriculture are not taken into consideration. Different companies are visited from one quarter to the next. As a rule, the same company is not contacted more than once a year.
The SNB relies on longstanding relationships with companies and also visits new companies across all industries.
Are companies obliged to take part in the SNB's talks?
The companies participate in discussions with the SNB on a voluntary basis.
Are the names of the companies participating in talks with the SNB made public?
Each year in December, with the approval of the companies concerned, the SNB publishes a list of the companies with which its delegates conducted discussions in that year. The names are listed at the end of the December issue of Business cycle signals (formerly 'Business cycle trends').
In what form do the delegates conduct their talks?
The delegates visit the selected companies and conduct one-to-one talks with managers or financial officers. Discussions by telephone and by video conference are the exception. The conversations are always confidential.
What kind of information does the SNB hope to obtain from the talks?
The SNB's delegates are primarily interested in qualitative information. However, the talks are structured in such a way as to allow the delegates to grade part of the received qualitative information according to a numeric scale, thereby enabling the results to be aggregated and represented in charts. This is then reproduced in the Business cycle signals and the special reports. If required, the SNB's delegates also conduct special surveys on topical issues, such as the effects of Swiss franc appreciation.
How is the information recorded?
For certain topics, the delegates rank the statements of the company representatives according to a five-tier scale, which is used to express qualitative information in numeric form. The scale ranges from 'substantially higher' or 'much too high' (+2), 'slightly higher' or 'somewhat high' (+1), 'the same' or 'normal' (0), 'slightly lower' or 'somewhat low' (-1), to 'substantially lower' or 'much too low' (-2). This approach enables the information from all companies and regions to be aggregated and the results to be presented in charts.
How are the resulting charts to be interpreted?
The charts are to be regarded as a numeric summary of the qualitative information received. The index values shown represent the weighted average of the results from all companies visited. The scale ranges from +2 to -2. When interpreting the curves, particular relevance should be attached to their overall development, rather than to their numeric level or individual changes.
For what purpose does the SNB use the results of the company talks?
The detailed information collected by the SNB through its company talks is evaluated in terms of quality and quantity and is used, along with other economic analyses and forecasts, as a basis for the Governing Board's quarterly monetary policy assessment (Questions and answers on monetary policy strategy). The SNB is not interested in individual companies per se, but in the aggregate overall picture of the Swiss economy, which evolves from the results of the discussions conducted. A summary of these results is published periodically on the SNB's website and in its Quarterly Bulletin (Business cycle signals).
Do other central banks also conduct regional economic monitoring?
A number of central banks carry out regional economic monitoring. Recent years have seen a general rise in interest in this area. The SNB is in contact and shares findings with various central banks.
Regional Economic Councils
What is the role of the Regional Economic Councils?
The Regional Economic Councils support the SNB's delegates in monitoring economic developments in their regions and explaining SNB policy. The Regional Economic Councils keep SNB management informed of the economic situation and the effects of monetary policy in their regions. The three to four members of a Regional Economic Council are elected by the Bank Council. Persons with an impeccable reputation, business experience and recognised knowledge of the industry to which they belong are eligible for membership.
How do the delegates work with the Regional Economic Councils?
The economic council of each region usually meets its delegate for talks once every quarter. The council members report on developments in their companies and in other areas of economic activity into which they have insight. The delegates outline the current economic and monetary situation from the perspective of the SNB.
Is it possible to exchange banknotes at the SNB's regional representative offices?
Banknotes cannot be exchanged at the SNB's regional representative offices. Banknotes that have been recalled but that are still exchangeable can be exchanged exclusively at the SNB's cashier's offices (Berne and Zurich) and at SNB agencies. For the relevant addresses and for further information, please consult the Instruction sheet on exchanging recalled banknotes.