One of the first things I did when I arrived in Geneva was to open a bank account. At that time, the obvious choice was UBS simply because it was the largest bank in Switzerland and had the most ATM machines around. But as international civil servants, we can get special privileges and access to credit unions or mutual associations that are non-profit and as good as (or even better than) banks. So here are the best 3 savings accounts (plus a bonus) that every international civil servant in Geneva should open.
Here are the best savings accounts:
You’ll definitely need one Swiss bank account to receive your salary in CHF and pay the bills. And UBS used to be the go-to bank for anyone working in an international organization.
However, times have changed. There are several internet-only Swiss banks that have zero monthly fees! On the other hand, UBS continues to charge a small fee for account maintenance each month. Nevertheless, it is very convenient with many branches in Switzerland and an English website and app.
Pros: Lots of branches and ATM machines in all corners of Switzerland. English speaking. Has a good website with the ability to pay via e-Bill, track your assets and breakdown spending.
Cons: CHF 3 fee per month (With total assets from CHF 10,000) else CHF5 fee per month.
Money Monkey Strategy: Open a UBS account and maintain a minimum balance of CHF10,000 per month. Don’t take additional options like credit cards or a EUR account to keep the fees to the minimum. So you’ll end up paying CHF36 per month.
The UBS e-banking services such as e-Bill and balance forecast are really convenient!
2. La Mutuelle
The International Civil Servants Mutual Associations, founded in 1958, is a non-profit fund exclusive to the United Nations at Geneva and Specialized Agencies. Opening an account is straightforward and there is a one-off fee of CHF10. Only active or retired civil servants can be members of La Mutuelle. While there is no guarantee on the savings, it has been around for more than 60 years!
The only reason you would have a savings account here is to take advantage of the high-interest rate of 1.35% (2020) per year! The catch is that you can only deposit up to CHF2,000 per month.
Pros: High yield for CHF, non-profit for UN staff, housing loan interest of 0.29% per month for up to CHF250,000 over 144 months.
Cons: Not convenient for regular transactions like paying the bills etc., only one branch at the Palais des Nations
Money Monkey Strategy: Open an account with La Mutuelle and set up a standing order from UBS to deposit CHF2,000 monthly into this account. Use La Mutuelle to save up for an emergency fund or for your down-payment for an apartment.
The United Nations Federal Credit Union is a non-profit credit union open to employees, consultants, and retirees of the United Nations and affiliated agencies including family members of a UNFCU member (includes spouses, parents, children, grandchildren, grandparents, brothers, and sisters). They are based in New York but with offices in Geneva.
Your savings are insured up to at least USD250,000. You definitely want to open a USD account with UNFCU and get the Visa Elite credit card (costs CHF50 per year but is well worth it) which gives you 1% cashback and no processing fees for international purchases.
On top of that, with the Visa Elite you and your travel companion get to visit any business class lounges 5 times per year for free even if you are travelling on an economy class ticket!
This is definitely the credit card to use during international travel. There will be a separate post on how to take full advantage of the savings and current account for your investment and travels.
Money Monkey Strategy: Open a UNFCU account and get the Visa Elite which does not have any processing fee for international purchases, you get 1% cashback and you get to access business class lounges in any airport 5 times per year for free. This credit card is absolutely essential when traveling outside of Switzerland.
Bonus – Zak
Zak is one of them from Bank Cler and part of Coop. It was launched in 2018 and is the first digital bank (or Neobank) in Switzerland. Unlike UBS, Zak is currently available in French, German and Italian. Opening the account is simple, you just need to download the app on your mobile and follow the instructions. Get CHF50 by entering 7OUZZ4 during sign up.
Pros: No management fees. Free physical Visa card (but I will show you a better credit card strategy). Free withdrawals from Bank Cler ATM.
Cons: Not in English. Withdrawals from other ATMs are not free (CHF2 or EUR5). Limited number of ATMs in Switzerland.
There are now more than 12 Neobanks (digital banks without branch offices) in Switzerland e.g. Zak, NEON, N26, Wise, Revolut, etc. It may no longer make sense to have a bank account in a traditional brick and mortar bank unless you really need a branch office. What do you think of Neobanks? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe!