Tired of London, tired of, er, London. As a London headhunter within financial services who has moved to Switzerland (Zürich) in the last couple of years, I feel partially qualified to comment on the Switzerland talent migration. Here are 8 things I suggest you think about if you’re considering a move.
1. The market: It ain’t all sunshine.
First things first. There are still some very good opportunities in Switzerland but the bad news is that people here might not be tripping over themselves to hire you. Despite the Swiss market’s reduced IB exposure, other industries like (re)insurance and wealth management come fully equipped with problems of their own.
All the major institutions here are under cost pressure, regardless of their field, but particularly when they’re running a Swiss-franc denominated corporate centre cost base with universally high salaries even among junior and administrative staff.
Zurich is also being shaken up as mid-tier private banks adapt and consolidate in response to the changing regulatory/political climate towards bank secrecy and client tax avoidance. Because of this, there will be some very good local candidates on the market. You will be competing against them.
2. Your experience: Your capital markets-tastic CV may carry less currency than you think
Don’t assume that because you were once the go-to person in London for all things related to the funkiest exotic derivative known to man – from the model through to the ink the term-sheet was printed in – that people in Switzerland will care. They won’t. Forget the old acronyms. If you are good, you will show that comfortably over time in the new world.
Bear in mind that while you may not have been hired because of your encyclopaedic knowledge of Swiss banking secrecy law or your relationships with the FINMA, research into these two things will also stand you in good stead.
3. Tax: Yes, you will pay it, but probably less of it.
Somewhere along the line, someone confused Switzerland’s reputation as a tax haven with having no tax. This means that at your London leaving-do at least 5 people will take you aside to utter “Switzerland? Tax free innit?” before asking how near Verbier you’ll be.
The truth is a bit different. Cantons like Geneva have previously negotiated flat-rate deals with companies who were bringing X number of high earners into the local economy. However these are increasingly less common nowadays.
Proceed simply on the basis that if you are a top rate earner in the UK you will be paying less than you do now.
4. Cost of living: Switch off the Pounds. It’s too painful otherwise.
You are moving country, so you are moving currency. There is no denying that Switzerland is expensive.
Salaries in the major FS and Commodity-related cities are universally high (and in contrast to previous views seen on this site, my own view is that the majority of people in FS earn more than their London counterparts – it’s only maybe at the absolute top end in the front office that this isn’t true) – even among temporary/casual workers in bars and cafes – but unfortunately, goods and services are comparatively highly priced across the board. Get used to it. If you’ve planned effectively, any additional outgoings on day-to-day sundries should be offset by reduced tax and higher comp. Brace yourself for the price of meat though– even in a supermarket it’s an eye waterer.
5. Location, Location, Taxation.
Income tax is calculated on a cantonal (district) basis. It factors in various things, including marital status and assets.
Whilst you might like the idea of living in central Zürich or Geneva and sauntering to and from the office with your jacket slung over your shoulder, from a financial point of view you will pay more for your accommodation (central Geneva has the highest rents in Switzerland), get less for your money and pay more tax – quite a trinity. Instead, you are likely to find yourself living in a more financially attractive Canton, from which you will need to commute into work. Think Schwyz and Zug for Zürich.
6. Language: A little goes a long way
In your head you are Roger Moore, arching an eyebrow to the waiter and nodding with pinpoint accuracy toward your dish of choice in the bottom corner of the crowded menu, but in the waiter’s head you are the archetypal Brit abroad, making eyes like saucers and bellowing in slow motion, “WITH CHIPS”. Whether it’s French or German speaking Switzerland, everyone likes a trier.
Yes, if you are joining a global organisation the odds are you will be working in English. Yes, most of the Swiss people you encounter will be far better in English than you are in their native tongue (despite massively underplaying it). And, yes, you will encounter situations of comic embarrassment worthy of a sketch show when in shops and trying to buy things. But make the effort to learn some basics – it will be worth it. Swiss people are very open and what you give, you’ll get back.
7. Switzerland isn’t boring, but maybe you are?
If you are reading this page, I’d be surprised if your potential new employer is based anywhere other than Zürich, Geneva, Zug, Luzern or perhaps Winterthur. If so, relax. These are not boring places. Yes, all of them are smaller than London, but you will have access to great restaurants, theatre, art, bars and music. There is probably less variety than London, but if you are a Londoner and are worrying about it, when did you last go to Greenwich observatory? Or the Globe? Kew gardens anyone? Exactly. As Talk Talk said, life’s what you make it. Come with an open mind and you will love it here.
8. Step away from the pork scratchings. Buy a bike.
The climate, outdoor space and scenery make this a good opportunity to break the Fuzzy’s Grub – down the pub cycle of doom. Biking, hiking, skiing and swimming –in-the-lake-ing are all there to be enjoyed so make the most of them. If you are bringing a family, Switzerland is ideal and the quality of life here is another indisputable positive.
Chris Rowe is a Director with the Global Infrastructure Search Firm Leathwaite International