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.”
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.”