ZURICH, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Swiss banks would face mass withdrawals by depositors if they were to introduce negative interest rates for retail clients, UBS's chief economist for Switzerland said on Tuesday.
Since January 2015, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) has imposed a 0.75 percent charge on deposits with the central bank above a certain threshold, part of the SNB's policy to weaken demand for Switzerland's currency.
Banks are looking for ways to offset the cost from negative interest rates but Daniel Kalt of UBS said that passing them on to retail clients would be a step too far. "Otherwise you have a bank run," Kalt said at a media conference in Zurich.
Swiss banks forked over 1.2 billion Swiss francs ($1.19 billion) to the SNB to park money there last year. Nevertheless, almost all of Switzerland's roughly 260 banks have so far held off from passing on negative interest rates to retail customers.
Alternative Bank Switzerland, whose investment criteria mean it keeps a large portion of cash with the SNB, is the lone bank to pass on negative rates to everyday clients.
However, some, such as PostFinance, have moved to charge wealthy clients a fee for holding larger deposits.
"Cash, as banks offer it, is a subsidised asset because we do not pass on negative interest rates," Kalt said. "Therefore for banks, cash is a certain problem. With each million in cash we get, it's a loss-making business for us."
Swiss banks held 1.723 trillion Swiss francs worth of customer deposits at the end of 2015, according to the Swiss National Bank's 2015 annual report on the sector.
$1 = 1.0098 Swiss francs Reporting by Joshua Franklin; editing by Mark Heinrich