The SNB has two head offices, one in Berne and one in Zurich, as well as a branch office in Singapore. It maintains six representative offices (in Basel, Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Lucerne and St Gallen). It also has 13 agencies operated by cantonal banks and serving the country’s supply of money.
Independence, accountability and relationship with the Confederation
The independence of the Swiss National Bank is enshrined as a principle in the Constitution. It entails various aspects, which are set out in detail in the National Bank Act. The functional independence consists in the formal prohibition of the SNB and its bodies against accepting instructions issued by the Federal Council, the Federal Assembly or any other body in fulfilling its monetary tasks (authority to act independent of instructions). The financial independence is evident both in the SNB’s budgetary autonomy and in the prohibition against granting loans to the Confederation, which bars the state from accessing the banknote press. Finally, the independence of the SNB in personnel matters is reflected by the fact that members of the Governing Board and their deputies may be removed from office during their fixed term only if they no longer fulfil the requirements for exercising their office or have committed a grave offence.
As a counterbalance to independence, the Act places a three-fold accountability on the SNB: vis-à-vis the Federal Council, the Federal Assembly and the general public. The SNB regularly reviews the economic situation and monetary policy with the Federal Council and discusses issues relating to the government’s economic policies. Formally, the Federal Council’s Delegation for General Economic Policy and the SNB’s Governing Board inform each other at periodic meetings. The SNB submits an annual written report to the Federal Assembly on how it has fulfilled its statutory tasks, and explains its monetary policy to the relevant committees. Lastly, the SNB keeps the general public informed on the development of the real economy and of the monetary situation by means of quarterly reports, and publicly announces its monetary policy intentions. By explaining its policy on a regular basis and rendering account of its decisions, the SNB makes its activities transparent.
As the SNB fulfils a public mandate, in accordance with the Constitution it is administered with the cooperation and under the supervision of the Confederation. The SNB is constituted as a special statute joint-stock company; the Confederation does not hold any of its shares. The Federal Council, therefore, exercises its cooperation and supervision with regard to the administration of the SNB through various powers of appointment and approval: It appoints the majority of the Bank Council members (six out of eleven) as well as the three members of the Governing Board and their deputies. In addition, the Federal Council approves the SNB’s organisation regulations, and the SNB must submit the business report and the annual financial statements to the Federal Council for approval before they are approved by the General Meeting of Shareholders. In this way, the Swiss government ensures that the SNB is managed effectively and efficiently.
The SNB’s organisation at a glance
The National Bank has two head offices one in Berne and one in Zurich, as well as a branch office in Singapore. Moreover, it maintains six representative offices (in Basel, Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Lucerne and St Gallen). In addition, it has 13 agencies operated by cantonal banks and serving the country’s supply of money.
The General Meeting of Shareholders is held once a year, as a rule in April. Owing to the SNB’s public mandate, the powers of the Shareholders’ Meeting are not as extensive as in joint-stock companies under private law.
The Bank Council oversees and controls the conduct of business by the National Bank. It consists of 11 members. Six members, including the President and Vice-President, are appointed by the Federal Council, and five by the Shareholders’ Meeting. The Bank Council sets up four committees from its own ranks: an Audit Committee, a Risk Committee, a Remuneration Committee and an Appointment Committee.
The National Bank’s supreme managing and executive body is the Governing Board. It is in particular responsible for monetary policy, asset investment strategy and international monetary cooperation.
The Enlarged Governing Board consists of the three members of the Governing Board and their deputies. It is responsible for the strategic and operational management of the SNB.
The members of the Governing Board and their deputies are appointed for a six-year term by the Federal Council upon recommendation of the Bank Council. Re-election is possible.
The National Bank is divided into three Departments. The organisational units of Departments I and III are for the most part located in Zurich and those of Department II in Berne.
The scope of business of Department I includes: Economic Affairs, International Affairs, Legal Services, Communications, Statistics.
The scope of business of Department II includes: Finance, Risk Management, Financial Stability, Cash, Security.
The scope of business of Department III includes: Money Market and Foreign Exchange, Asset Management, Banking Operations, Information Technology.
The Secretariat General is the staff unit of the Governing Board and the Bank Council. It reports to the Governing Board and, in an administrative sense, belongs to Department I.
The Internal Auditors unit reports to the Audit Committee of the Bank Council.
The annual Sustainability Report sets out how the SNB puts the principle of operational sustainability into practice in its interactions with employees, society and the environment.
Since 1996 the SNB has been pursuing an environmental management policy centred on an annual life cycle assessment aimed at reducing resource consumption. For 2009 through to 2016, the SNB published an annual Environmental Report laying out its objectives and performance in this regard. For the 2018 financial year, this evolved into a sustainability report with the addition of two further key areas – employees and society. The ’Environment’ chapter of this new report also includes the environmental data for 2017.
The SNB’s Environmental and Sustainability Reports
Questions and answers on the SNB’s independence
The Federal Constitution entrusts the SNB, as an independent central bank, with the pursuit of monetary policy that serves the overall interests of the country (art. 99 para. 2). The SNB's independence comprises four aspects - functional, financial, institutional and personnel independence - all of which are described in detail in the National Bank Act (NBA). Financial, institutional and personnel independence form the foundation upon which, in practice, functional independence is secured.
Functional independence refers to the fact that the SNB and its organisational bodies are prohibited from seeking or accepting instructions from either the Federal Council or the Federal Assembly or any other body in fulfilling its monetary tasks (art. 6 NBA). Consequently, monetary policy decisions are taken solely by the body charged by the NBA with this task, the Governing Board.
On the one hand, the Governing Board of the SNB and members of the Federal Council meet regularly to discuss the general economic situation and other issues of mutual interest. On the other, towards the end of the year, the Federal Council invites the Chairperson of the Governing Board to attend one of its meetings for an exchange of views. Federal Councillors and members of the Governing Board also meet bilaterally to discuss topics of mutual interest, such as the International Monetary Fund. The briefings and the exchange of information between the Federal Council and the SNB are confidential.
The SNB informs the general public about its monetary policy decisions and about balance sheet developments via press releases and news conferences. It also issues numerous publications on topics including monetary policy, financial stability, asset management, statistics and its research. In its Annual Report, the SNB renders account on the fulfilment of its statutory mandate and provides detailed information on its activities and balance sheet. SNB executive management regularly responds to current and fundamental issues relating to monetary policy in speeches and interviews. By explaining its policy and accounting for its decisions and their consequences, the SNB makes its activities transparent. The SNB is also required to provide a high degree of transparency owing to its status as a special-statute joint-stock company listed on the stock exchange. All of the information on offer is available at www.snb.ch.