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A winding road with switchbacks

The family vehicle

Julien Dif and Sebastian Lohse describe the utility of the Swiss family office

Switzerland is, alongside the UK, the key location for family offices (FOs) in Europe. Family offices are service platforms whose essential function consists in preserving the fortune of high-net-worth (HNW) families. Unsurprisingly, their primary focus lies on wealth management and estate planning. However, single-family offices (SFOs) in particular tend to offer a wide range of additional services, such as tax advice, art management, advice on philanthropy and sustainable investing, acquisition and administration of real estate, as well as family governance.

 

Legal forms

The most popular legal form for SFOs in Switzerland is the company limited by shares (société anonyme),[1] the shareholders of which comprise the beneficiaries and often some of the service providers. Private wealth and corporate wealth being strictly separate, the shareholders’ liability is limited to the share capital. Recently revised, the legal rules provide a high degree of flexibility as regards company purpose and organisational structure, while ensuring the anonymity of the owners. It allows for the intergenerational transfer of assets as the rights of the shareholders automatically pass to the heirs.[2] What is more, shareholder agreements are efficient tools of corporate governance to ensure long-term control over the company. Such contracts provide, inter alia, for pre-emption rights, purchase obligations, specific voting rules and veto rights.

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