1 The Fintech Landscape
1.1 Please describe the types of fintech businesses that are active in your jurisdiction and any notable fintech innovation trends of the past year within particular sub-sectors (e.g. payments, asset management, peer-to-peer lending or investment, insurance and blockchain applications).
The Swiss fintech landscape has evolved significantly over the past few years and Switzerland continues to be an attractive base for innovators in the financial sector. Approximately 200 active companies in various sub-sectors form the core of the diverse Swiss fintech ecosystem. The total number of fintech-related businesses, however, is much higher. Many established financial institutions and other established financial market players have entered the fintech space in the recent past and, as a result, the distinction between fintech and traditional financial services has become increasingly blurred.
Swiss-based fintech businesses include robo-advisory and social trading services, crowdfunding and crowdlending platforms as well as payment systems and businesses active in the area of collective investment schemes. One of the key focus areas in the past year has been driven by blockchain-based businesses, in particular in the areas of cryptocurrencies and decentralised transaction platforms (e.g. Ethereum and Lykke), many of which are based in the socalled "cryptovalley" in the Canton of Zug. This development is accompanied by a notable increase in so-called initial coin offerings ("ICO") out of Switzerland, i.e. a digital method of raising capital through the issuance of tradable digital units (coins or tokens) to finance or develop early stage projects of start-ups, including but not limited to projects in the fintech sector.
The Swiss fintech industry has formed a number of associations and shared interest groups (e.g. the Swiss Finance + Technology Association, Swiss Fintech Innovation, Swiss Finance Startups and the Crypto Valley Association) to promote, together with investors, experts and media, the development of a strong Swiss fintech sector.
1.2 Are there any types of fintech business that are at present prohibited or restricted in your jurisdiction (for example cryptocurrency-based businesses)?
Switzerland has no specific prohibitions or restrictions in place with respect to fintech. Generally speaking, Swiss financial regulation is technology-neutral and principle-based, which has so far allowed it to cope with technological innovation. That said, fintech operators may be subject to regulation and supervision by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA ("FINMA") or by selfregulatory organisations depending on the nature and specifics of their business. The relevance and application of Swiss laws on e.g. anti-money laundering, collective investment schemes, financial market infrastructures, banks, insurance companies and/or securities dealers has to be assessed in the individual case (see question 3.1). With regard to ICOs in particular, FINMA recently published a guidance letter in which it emphasised the concept of an individual review of each business case regarding the regulatory impact. It is therefore prudent for fintech start-ups to seek clearance from the regulator before launching their project in the market.
2 Funding For Fintech
2.1 Broadly, what types of funding are available for new and growing businesses in your jurisdiction (covering both equity and debt)?
Switzerland has an active start-up scene and various funding opportunities are available for companies at every stage of development. There are seed and venture capital firms for early funding as well as mature debt and equity capital markets for successful companies at a later stage. In addition, there are many financial institutions that have a potential interest in buying an equity stake in fintech companies or in a full integration.
Crowdfunding and crowdlending as alternative sources of funding have shown rapid growth rates in Switzerland. The first crowdfunding platform was founded in 2008 and currently there are now around 50 active platforms (compared to only four in 2014). A further professionalisation of the crowdlending market may be expected for the near future as Swiss Parliament is deliberating on changes to the Consumer Credit Act ("CCA") with the intention to subject crowdlending intermediaries to certain reporting duties and further obligations in connection with the review of the creditworthiness of the borrowers.
Furthermore, a growing number of incubators and accelerators, either exclusively fintech-related (such as the association F10 or Thomson Reuters Labs - The Incubator) or focused on digital innovation in general including fintech (such as Kickstart Accelerator), support and guide fintech start-ups in transforming their ideas into successful ventures.
2.2 Are there any special incentive schemes for investment in tech/fintech businesses, or in small/ medium-sized businesses more generally, in your jurisdiction, e.g. tax incentive schemes for enterprise investment or venture capital investment?
There are no specific tax or other incentives for the benefit of the fintech industry in Switzerland. However, depending on the tax domicile of the company and the residence of the shareholders, there are certain tax benefits for start-up companies and tax schemes benefitting investors. In addition, again, depending on the tax domicile of the company, the ordinary profit tax rate in Switzerland can be as low as 12%. Currently, there are also discussions in Switzerland regarding the introduction of special R&D deduction regimes and of an IP box regime.
In particular, start-ups may benefit from a tax holiday on the cantonal and federal level if their tax domicile is located in a structurally less...
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