The Bank’s reply to the complainant’s complaint suggested that it refused to provide information because the account was held in the name of a third party. Since she had a son who had reached the age of majority, the Ombudsman suspected that she might have opened the account in the name of her son and that she was no longer aware of this. The customer relations of the bank at which the complainant had opened the account had been taken over by another bank, which in turn was later taken over by a third bank. The complainant was unable to produce account opening documents from any of the three banks. However, she had letters from the current bank and statements of account which indicated that the account was in her own name after all and which made the bank’s behaviour appear strange.
The Ombudsman contacted the bank, submitted the conflicting documents to it and asked it for appropriate explanations. Unfortunately, he received the same succinct answer as the client: the bank’s compliance department told him that it could not assign the account number on the documents to any business relationship in the client’s name and that the client was not entitled to information about such a business relationship. The bank did not comment on the contradictory documents. The Ombudsman then contacted the bank’s CEO and asked him to comment specifically on the question raised.
He was subsequently contacted by telephone by a compliance officer, who informed him that the account had been erroneously set up with the complainant as account holder when the previous bank was taken over. In fact, however, the complainant had opened the account in the name of her then underage son and had reserved the right of disposal until he was of age. At the same time, she had granted her brother power of attorney. The son had meanwhile reached the age of majority. Upon inquiry by the Ombudsman, she stated that the power of attorney in favour of the brother of the account opener had never been revoked. The Ombudsman told the Compliance Officer that the bank could not remain inactive in such a case and could limit itself to simply refusing to provide the account opener with any information once the account holder had reached the age of majority. Rather, it was incumbent on the bank to ensure in good time that the possibility of direct contact with the account holder coming of age could be ensured. Unfortunately, this had not been done and the bank had now been unable to establish contact with the account holder. As the Ombudsman learnt from the complainant and her brother, contact with their son or nephew had also been broken off.
In this case, it was obvious that the person opening the account was no longer entitled to information due to the fact that the account holder had come of age in the meantime and the bank was only allowed to provide information to him or a designated representative. In addition to these confidentiality obligations, however, a bank is required by the Guidelines on the Treatment of Assets without Contact and Dormant Assets at Swiss Banks (Guidelines on Dormant Assets) to avoid the build-up of relationships without contact. It should therefore have sought solutions to meet both obligations and not simply adopted a passive attitude. Given the situation, the Ombudsman considered it sensible for the bank to inform the uncle of the account holder of the true circumstances, based on the power of attorney once granted to him, and to leave it to him to pass the information on to the complainant. In the end, the bank agreed with this procedure.