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Why hedge fund wives don’t do Switzerland

switzerland

Davos may be ever so exciting if you’re a senior banker’s wife or fan of Sharon Stone,  but the prospect of moving to Switzerland can be unappealing to the wives of senior financial services professionals. Problems getting children into good schools, the lack of a support network, and the alleged unfriendliness of the Swiss are all cited among the reasons why spouses might rather stay at home.

“For a certain percentage of the hedge fund manages we speak to, family members don’t want to make the move to Switzerland,” said Markus Federle, managing director of the Fairsky Group, which advises fund managers on relocation to Switzerland. “Husbands are often quite enthusiastic, but they can be shut down by their wives. We advise clients against leaving their family elsewhere from both a personal and a tax point of view. If you’re going to move to Switzerland, you need the buy-in of your family.”

“Once children are involved, spouses can find Switzerland quite difficult,” said John Godden, head of hedge fund consultancy IGS. “If there are no children, it’s far less of an issue – the lifestyle in Switzerland is actually pretty nice.”

Waiting lists and ways to integrate 

Among the biggest problems of moving to Switzerland with children is the shortage of places at the most desired international schools. Wives in expat forums often lament the lack of school places at their chosen establishments, with some staying behind in London while they try to navigate the Swiss system.

Laura Schoepfer, director of community relations at the International School of Zug and Lucerne, which has 1,300 students across three different campuses, said they typically admit 250 students a year, but that the school is oversubscribed at most levels. Pamela Bremer, who runs the Obersee Bilingual School in Pfäffikon, where funds like Man Group and BlueCrest are based, said parents often apply six months in advance. “Admission in the primary school requires an evaluation” that includes looking at previous school performance as well as teacher references and trial days in the school, Bremer said. The school does try to make spaces available for new families, she said.

Thwarted by efforts to access popular international schools, some expat financial services professionals in Switzerland opt for the local Swiss school system.

“There tend to be two types of expat families here,” said the wife of one private banker in Zug.  “The ones that are on contracts who are only staying a couple of years and who generally send their children to the International School of Zug and Lucerne and then those of us on local contracts who need to stay long term and want to integrate and learn the lingo.”

Swiss reserve

Although Swiss schools may be a route to integration with the local Swiss community, one Scandinavian hedge fund manager in Zug said the local community tends to remain aloof.

“It’s important that the children are integrated, but the reality is that it’s very difficult to get Swiss friends,” he said. “It’s one reason why the expat community is so close.”

The private banking wife we spoke to said Zug does in fact have some distinct expat hangouts, including the bar/club/restaurant Pier 41, Pickwick’s Pub, and Starbucks. However, Federle said expats will be disappointed if they come to Zug expecting big night life: “There aren’t a lot of glitzy hangouts in Zug. It’s not that kind of place. It’s a nice town on a lake with mountains, but it’s tiny. If you want something more urban, you’d go to Zurich, which is only a 15-minute drive.”

In Pfäffikon, Marcel Joualt, an ex-hedge fund manager who now works for a family office and is a partner in the Pfäffikon Financial Centre, said people tend to go into Zurich or Rapperswil if they want action. However, Pfäffikon has most things you need, said Joualt. “Its like every other small suburb – like Mayfair is to London. The only difference is that it’s quicker to get into Zurich from Pfäffikon than it is to Shoreditch from Oxford circus.”

What would Joualt say to a hedge fund spouse who’s hesitant about moving to Switzerland? “It’s all here if you want to be healthy,” he said. “Sports clubs, biking, a lake with potable water. It takes less time to get into Zurich by train than to get to Victoria from Canary Wharf. Unfortunately we don’t have any dirty pubs to turn bankers into aggressive alcoholics, but we’d rather those stay in London anyway.”

Comments (13)

Comments
  1. Anyone that has spent any length of time in Switzerland (especially Zurich, Zug and Plaffikon) will have experienced how weird and aloof the Swiss are. It is extremely difficult to integrate and make friends. Things are somewhat a little more relaxed in Geneva but the Swiss are generally unfriendly and suspicious of foreigners (even wealthy ones). Zug is quite peculiar in itself. The canton has made it attractive for a lot of companies to set up their and now the locals are retaliating and feel animosity towards all the outsiders that have settled in their town (making accommodation very expensive). It is a vicious circle everywhere in Switzerland: cantons pass laws to attract new companies (see Rolle near Geneva) and then when inflation hits their villages, they blame the foreigners for all their ills. People also often assume that the Swiss have the infrastructure to support all these new businesses but apart from trains running on time they still lag behind on many aspects (IT infrastructure notably) and they are almost obsessed with bureaucracy.

  2. I can’t speak for the German side, but in Geneva at least I don’t think the Swiss are actively unwelcoming. However, this is a city that is full of ‘foreigners’ and you don’t really have a lot of interaction with Swiss people. I work for a locally based company (commodity trader) and so most of my Swiss friends are through work. Problem with Geneva is it is quite small; in fact all Swiss cities are small when compared to international cities elsewhere in the world. That in itself takes some getting used to – like living in Oxford vs London.

  3. After spending a year in Switzerland I only can say: This problem isn’t existing for anyone speaking German or French, but if not you can only hang around with other expats. That’s actually boring.

  4. I’m not Swiss, but I think it’s not that fair to compare Pfäffikon or Zug to big cities. They are small rural towns. If you come to Zurich you will find friendly and open-minded people and quite some nightlife

  5. Switzerland is beautiful, quality if life is fantastic. In Zurich you want nightlife – go out to the warehouse parties or midnight markets. For the guys – more prostitues on the streets than in most west European capitals – just confined to three areas. More open rules on pornography – legislation on child porn only acted upon in the last 11 years ( why do you think the maddie McCann investigation came here to search the readily available porn sites ??). The problem is that everything is hidden. Nothing is quite what it seems. Look at the total acceptance of violence in the local schools even at kindergarten level. When you sit the gymmie exam at 11 you must declare if you are Swiss or foreign. You cannot sit the exam if you refuse to disclose. Look at the recent child abduction case compensation – half Nigerian child is worth less than Caucasian child for 12 month abduction. Look at the prosecution of domestic violence cases – less likely to succeed if the wife is foreign – reasons often given are often openly rascist. Women earning the same salary as men are usually taxed at higher rates – foreign women working …!? Yet it is billed as totally equal society. Good local schools but only for those who can afford the huge costs of private tuition. The skiing is great. The sport on all fronts is fantastic. Wonderful facilities. If you can turn a blind eye to the two faced ness of Swiss society then come. If not stay in the EU – where equal usually does mean equal. And by the way I can speak German and I have more Swiss friends than expats.

  6. Hmm, this discussion looks the same as when trying to explain the taste of Italian food to a Tajikistan sheepfarmer.
    The sheer assumption that hedge fund managers are anything else than financially spoiled pimpleheaded nerds, with their assorted money-focused spouse, and that therefore they should be somehow capable of transferring anywhere abroad with ease – ah, what glorious misreading of reality.

    The reality is, there are in this world no more worldly and more livable medium-sized cities in the world than the Swiss cities, and none anywhere comes even to mind when you add the scenery, safety and social stability.
    Hedge fund wives are often shopaholic golddiggers or narrow career-women, quite often without any language or cultural skills – they would not prosper within any geographic or lingual transplant.

    For anybody who ever lived in London, New York or LA, the complaints of “good schools and cheap villas are scarce, and the local aristocracy is tight” sound familiar – they are the same complaints everywhere where people congregate.

    With the exception that in Switzerland actually the governmental schools are most often way better and more social-minded than the private schools, so much so that historically the private schools were only used by rich kids who otherwise had failed because of their ineptitude.

    What is really bewildering is the assumption that the Swiss should be especially wellcoming to people whose character is too cheap to pay the taxes in their native countries, people who leave their homes without paying their dues to society – now what a great addition to Swiss society can those cheapskates really be?
    Fact is – most often exactly those people go out of their way to prove this point every day of every week with extreme arrogance to place and locale.
    It is quite certain that nobody in their home country would want them back, except for the money they cheated out of their society.

  7. I have just read Hansli`s comment – I think they cannot possibly have children in the swiss school system. Socially minded – 50 % of primary school children are at one stage or another subjected to violence at school ?? Talk to the parents of the 9 year old Turkish girl raped in Zurich by two 11 year olds – she was expected to return to class and sit next to them. They were not removed from the school. Zurich City policy is to remove the victim of bullying not the agressors …because there are too many agressors !
    The best primary schools generally have 80% of their children in private tuition outside school hours at a cost of about 100chfs per hour. Hence the huge differential between the result at the end of sixth class between the rich and the poor areas (there is only one area that is an exception to this)- can give you the stats for Zurich if you want. It actually works out cheaper to send your child to a private school except there are not enough places – see the huge waiting lists even for Swiss private schools (rather than the international ones).
    The schools have great facilities and there are good points but as I said before the two sides are really black and white and the black is definitely not publicised.
    The swiss SHOULD welcome foreign wives because – they do pay tax here – normally in advance (depending on the Canton until you have been here 5 years when you can then pay in arrears) !!!
    I have lived as a foreigner in many places and the swiss society is far more difficult to be integrated into than London or New York (never been an expat in LA so I can`t comment). The society here cannot actually function without foreigners (- not specifically Hedge Fund Managers-) look at the number of top swiss companies with foreign directors – I believe the last figure was 40%. Far higher than in the other cities stated. I like it here but I think the retiscent wives are more in touch with Swiss society than Hansli is and perhaps have done more research before just moving to the richest cities.

  8. This is one of the stupidest articles I’ve read on efinancialcareers… it is just ghastly stupid…

  9. School places in Switzerland are few and far between. Have you tried writing about the expat situation in Hong Kong, where there are quite a few hedge funds popping up??

  10. Your collective experiences about Swiss welcom sound like France….after 8 years of living and working here, we both have not managed to make true friends here… as I am told, french don’t have a need or want to make new friends beyond their old established ones. Great, doesn’t make for a lot of open mindedness….

  11. this is a great article… keep up the rumor that switzerland is an unfriendly place, the less people that move here the better…. the swiss aren’t stupid or aloof, they just want their country kept the way it should be… if the UK had taken this attitude it wouldn’t have all the social problems it has…. you can’t compare switzerland with anywhere else….. and if you don’t like well…… great… .leave the highest standard of living in the world for those that do and shove off back to whatever nasty messy over crowded under privledged city you came from and when you get home say hi to your local politicans and all their corrupted cronyism, thier massive debt load they’ve robbed from tax payers, and wave to your fascist police force and give a nod to the government guy that’s tapping into your bank account and phone calls to make sure your an an obidient little comrade, and say hi to the social workers waiting to pounce and confiscate your kids at any moment, and say hi to your creaking health service that is overloaded with immigrants and unable to cope, and enjoy the drug dealers and gangs and crime and general mayhem……… you belong there….

  12. “swisswife” seems to be under enormous stress. It is unclear where this stress comes from. She cites a girl being raped in school – horrible! – but definitely totally untypical. School-rape and the occasional murder are the norm in most cities of the world, and literally unheard of in Switzerland. I do have kids in the school system here, and I read all the major newspapers, but never heard of the case cited by “swisswife”.
    I do not exlcude it – Switzerland has some weird corners, and some even weirder social services bureaucrats, so strange and horrible things can happen here – but the targets of most trespassings by the bureaucracy are the fathers chased by rogue divorcee women.
    Regardless whether “swisswife” has actually had a personal bad experience, or simply is under enormous stress, the big advantage of Switzerland is this: The health system will pay for her to get unlimited counselling.
    Please use those services before your stress translates into personal attacks on imaginary foes.

  13. Totally stupid article with the usual anti-Swiss bashing.
    Swisswife: get your facts right – last time I looked Switzerland had one of the lowest crime rates in Europe

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