Swiss National Bank - independent and firmly anchored
Jean Studer, President of the Bank Council
107th Ordinary General Meeting of Shareholders of the Swiss National Bank, Berne, 24.04.2015
The policy of active crisis management on the part of the central banks has triggered a broad international debate on the mandate, independence, responsibility and accountability of these institutions. Public interest in institutional questions relating to the Swiss National Bank (SNB), too, has increased palpably - and not just since the discontinuation of the minimum exchange rate. In the interests of a reasoned debate, it is useful to remind ourselves of the advantages of the existing institutional framework: it formulates the SNB's monetary policy mandate precisely and grants it the freedom necessary for fulfilment. The independence the SNB enjoys is purely a means to an end - ensuring that it is in a position to fulfil its mandate as effectively as possible. The Governing Board's monetary policy decisions are based on a broad range of information sources. The wide-ranging duty of accountability plays an important role in ensuring that the SNB is firmly anchored in our political system.
The rules governing the calculation and distribution of SNB profits are likewise a key component of the institutional framework as they help secure the SNB's freedom to act in the long term. This explains why the legislature attaches such importance to ensuring that the SNB has sufficient equity capital, and why it gives allocations to provisions (i.e. the creation of equity capital) priority over dividend payments and distributions to the Confederation and the cantons. Although, for the first time in the SNB's history, no dividend was paid in 2013, conditions for the payment of a dividend and distributions for the 2014 financial year have been met. The Confederation and the cantons are to receive a supplementary distribution of CHF 1 billion. It should be noted that it is not possible to 'catch up' on an unpaid dividend at a later date as there is no legal basis for making such a claim.
The established institutional framework ensures that the SNB never 'loses touch' with developments in the real economy. The SNB has a duty to inform the public about its monetary policy decisions at regular intervals and to account for its actions. Independence and accountability are two sides of the same coin. In monetary policy matters, the SNB must always be guided by the long-term interests of the country as a whole. This may include making difficult trade-offs, but the SNB cannot turn a blind eye to realities. For Switzerland - an open, highly interconnected economy with strong foreign trade links - international developments are particularly important. Against this backdrop, the SNB cannot shield Switzerland's economy against all risks and crises.