Michael advises private clients on their domestic and international estate, tax, social security and succession planning as well as on philanthropic projects and governance-related questions. Michael has considerable expertise in advising foreign lawyers, and he is a recognised expert on the taxation of trusts and similar structures. Michael is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences and a regular contributor to tax journals. He lectures international tax law at EXPERTsuisse where he heads the module international tax.
What inspired you to specialise in private client work?
Private client work means we advise individuals who genuinely identify with the matter at stake. Clients tend to be owners and the issues concern their families and often related enterprises. We deal with the principals who naturally assume responsibility. And we do too. Clients rely on us for what matters most to them. This creates special bonds and I have enjoyed that from the very beginning.
Which types of matters are clients currently seeking advice on most frequently?
We have seen a number of relocations to Switzerland in the past year. Clients like the country’s reliability, political stability, geographic location and, let’s not forget, also its cultural diversity. There are not many places where you have four official languages, and the variety this brings, on 42’000 square kilometres.
What are the main international developments you see affecting the private client sector?
You could say the globalisation of markets and the economy is now followed by regulatory globalisation, including at tax level. One of the main starting points was the US FATCA legislation which paved the way for global automatic exchange of tax information, both for individuals and corporations. The tendency is now to accept that taxation, especially minimum tax rates, is no longer the prerogative of sovereign states but becomes subject to international harmonisation. I would point to the ongoing debate on a global minimum tax rate for corporations or, with regard to individuals, the recent OECD report on inheritance taxes. The OECD has made it clear that it was going to continue its work in that area – usually resulting in new proposals for taxation.
How has covid-19 affected clients? What do you predict to be the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic on your private client practice?
Clients still seek bespoke advice, of course. But the delivery, discussions especially, often takes place online these days. We will return to meeting on site, but where numerous attendees are required it will become the new normal that some will participate in person and others via a screen. And before long, avatars will be at the table too, I have no doubt.
How has covid-19 accelerated the digitalisation of the private client space? How has this impacted the advice you give to clients?
The private client space has seen digitalisation too, partly anyway. For example, the notarisation of documents still occurs in a traditional way. But clients hold new asset classes. And as an executor you better know where to find that USB stick and the password.
What impact do you foresee the new Swiss Trust Law having on the Swiss market? What advantages do you see it bringing for financial and commercial trusts?
The draft law is forthcoming later this year. At first, I was more on the sceptics’ side and, quite frankly, I would still prefer for the Swiss family foundation to have been trimmed fit for 21st century use (for charities a Swiss foundation remains hard to beat). Now that Le Trust Suisse seems to be the new black I am curious to see the continuation of the legislative process. I will happily believe that coupled with our honed private client-related savoir faire and Switzerland’s reputation for arbitration as a means of confidential and effective (family) dispute resolution it will add an additional trump (lower case T!) to our sector’s hand.
As founding partner of Fischer Ramp Buchmann, what are your main priorities for the firm’s development over the next five years?
We work hard to stay small. The way I perceive developments, the market trends towards large full-service firms on the one hand and focused high-end practices on the other. We are in the happy position to have an informal network of like-minded boutiques in Zurich and Geneva, all founded by lawyers with long experience in first-rate large firms. That allows us to cooperate just as seamlessly as if we were under the same logo. More than once was I able to call one of these specialist colleagues out of a meeting for a piece of off-the-cuff advice. Finally, we don’t compromise on quality when hiring. Our priority is to remain focused, responsive and agile.
What advice would you give to practitioners hoping to one day set up their own firm?
Start by learning from the best and then: just do it.