Numbered bank accounts are offered by Swiss banks to the majority of their clients. Typically the account will also have a codename attached to it for the convenience of both the banker and customer. This avoids confusion between banker and customer as to which account is being discussed. The feature of numbered accounts is that the customer's name does not appear on bank statements. Only the number and code-
A numbered bank account is a type of bank account where the name of the account holder is kept secret, and they identify themselves to the bank by means of a code word known only by the account holder and a restricted number of bank employees, thus providing accountholders with a degree of bank privacy in their financial transactions. Numbered bank accounts are frequently associated in the public mind with a desire by the account holder to either minimize governmental scrutiny and taxation, perhaps to conceal an illegal or unethical origin of the money in the account or to avoid arbitrary government interference in the affairs of a political dissident. For this reason, numbered bank accounts are illegal in most banking jurisdictions, but are available (subject to heavy international regulations) in some Western European countries with a long tradition of specializing in international banking, such as Switzerland and Austria; the holder has to be fully identified but there is no law that enforces the bank to fix the name of the holder in the title of the account.
Modern numbered bank accounts are not fully "anonymous", but they do serve to provide the account holder with a greater degree of protection from scrutiny while minimizing the exposure of the account holder's name in public settings. For example, the Swiss banking system (in contrast to banks in other countries) will not reveal information about an account (whether "numbered" or not) to any governmental agency unless proof of deliberate fraud is established, not merely the non-
Numbered accounts also have more mundane uses such as hiding funds from wives, family members, and others who would potentially try to take funds away from the owner. In some countries this might include criminals, kidnappers and blackmailers, whilst in others it may include unknown persons who might potentially sue, e.g. in a malpractice suit. Numbered accounts are also used for tax evasion, but following the imposition of a 15% withholding income tax on interest earned by EU residents, the perceived tax benefits have been somewhat diminished.
In order to restrict the use of numbered accounts for money laundering and other forms of financial fraud, the Council of Europe mandated in 1980 that numbered bank accounts be subject to international and domestic regulations pertaining to the verification of the identities of account holders and their activities.
Under these regulations, banks which operate numbered accounts may be required by a court order to reveal the owner's name and financial details, and the identity of the holder or beneficial owner must be examined for obvious fraudulent intentions at the start of the banking relationship. Since July 1, 2005, Switzerland (as the largest holder of European numbered bank accounts) has also charged a withholding tax on all interest earned in the personal Swiss accounts of European Union residents, a measure designed to satisfy EU tax requirements while still preserving account holder anonymity.