Stephanie Comtesse
Office:
Schiffbaustrasse 2
PO Box 1765
8031
City:
Zurich
State:
Zurich
Country:
Switzerland
Tel:
+41 44 396 91 91
Fax:
+41 44 396 91 92

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Switzerland

Stephanie Comtesse is a Swiss-American attorney known in particular for her pioneering work and expertise in the fields of asset management, investment funds and other investment products. A substantial part of her work has cross-border implications. She further provides advice in relation to M&A transactions with financial regulatory implications, general banking and finance matters, including fintech. She is the recipient of numerous prizes and is consistently highly ranked in prestigious legal directories. Stephanie is fluent in English, French and German.

DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER UP TO NOW.

I studied law and completed my internship with a commercial law firm in Geneva. Taking first place at the bar exam opened the door for me to immediately become an associate at a large prestigious corporate law firm in Zurich, the heart of the business and financial centre of Switzerland. During my years at that firm, I particularly enjoyed meeting the challenge of successfully integrating the male-dominated fields of M&A and banking. With time, my strong interest and business understanding of asset management and investment products enabled me to build a solid reputation as an adviser in this field. My expertise in the budding regulation led to my being recruited by another major player in Zurich. There, I established and led a successful dedicated investment management and fund practice group for 11 years. During this time I was able to travel, publish and speak extensively. With over 20 years of business experience, I recently moved to MLL where I particularly appreciate the dynamic and forward-thinking environment.

AS ONE OF THE FIRST ATTORNEYS TO SPECIALISE IN INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT WORK, WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO FOCUS ON THIS FIELD?

I noticed early in my career that this creative aspect of finance was full of unaddressed legal challenges that would need to be attended to within the coming years. There was very little interest for this field in the legal market at the time and few lawyers had had the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the business early on. Regulation was at a very rudimentary level and bound to increase substantially. I enjoyed putting my knowledge of this industry to use both for innovative clients and to assist as an expert in the regulatory legislative process. 

AS A SWISS-AMERICAN, HOW HAS YOUR INTERNATIONAL BACKGROUND AFFECTED YOUR PRACTICE?

I feel very much “at home” as both a person and a professional on both sides of the Atlantic. Because I understand each of the cultures well, it makes it easier for me to adapt to the differences as appropriate. This is a facilitating skill in difficult professional settings. 

I often hear from clients that the decisive factor to work with me rather than with another equally qualified and linguistically versed colleague was my international (or the correct national) background. In particular, professionals from the US who are less familiar with working in Europe often seek out someone who not only has the professional qualifications they seek, but who will “get” them better and understand where they are coming from in both the geographical and psychological senses. 

Personally, I have indeed found that my international background has helped me build bridges between people with very little common cultural ground at the onset. This is useful in our job.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE WILL BE THE IMPACT OF THE FINANCIAL SERVICES ACT, AND THE FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS ACT, ON THE SWISS INVESTMENT FUND MARKET?

Firstly, it’s important to note that although both bills have now been approved by parliament, the period for the Swiss population to ask for a referendum is not over yet. Secondly, as always, the implementing measures (the “ordinances”) will have a substantial impact. These drafts are not yet available.

Bearing this in mind, some of the most relevant upcoming changes to the Swiss fund market include a liberalisation of the marketing regime of foreign funds to professional investors. Indeed, in most instances, it will no longer be necessary to appoint a Swiss representative and a paying agent to market shares to professional investors. Furthermore, no distribution licences to market such shares will be required any more. The new legislation does, however, also provide for some new registration and licensing obligations for certain distributors and asset managers. 

DO YOU EXPECT THERE TO BE ANY CHANGES TO SWISS WITHHOLDING TAX REGULATIONS IN THE COMING MONTHS?

Swiss withholding tax is a deterrent for managers to set-up Swiss investment vehicles for a foreign investor base. This is because when distributions are made to foreign investors, an amount of up to 35 per cent of those earnings is withheld from payment to the investor until formalities to reclaim a portion (often determined in a double taxation treaty with the investor’s country of domicile) are completed. Although there are regularly initiatives to address this, we do not expect any substantial changes to occur in the short term.

Biographies:

Who's Who Legal Switzerland - Investment Management

Stephanie Comtesse is a Swiss-American attorney with over 20 years' experience in the fields of banking and finance. She heads MLL’s regulatory practice group for financial services and products. Stephanie Comtesse is further experienced in cross-border M&A transactions with regulatory implications. She is also involved in the latest legal developments linked to digitalisation, blockchain technology and fintech. A substantial part of her work has cross-border implications.

Her practice includes advising on (domestic and international) investment fund and asset management structures dedicated to a broad range of asset classes, establishing/licensing service providers and investment products, assisting foreign promoters in entering the Swiss market and dealing with compliance issues in relation to the provision of financial services, including AML. She also advises clients on all contractual and regulatory aspects of the management of pension fund assets and investment foundations. Stephanie Comtesse is a recognised representative for the listing of securities (including derivatives and structured products) at the SIX Swiss Exchange.

She has been actively involved in representing the interests of professional associations (eg, the Swiss Association of Foreign Banks) in the law-making process throughout her career and is a member of the Swiss Funds and Asset Management Association’s legal and compliance committee working group on international distribution.

Stephanie Comtesse is regularly invited to speak in Switzerland, Europe and the United States on current regulatory topics. She has published extensively throughout her career. Recent activity includes speaking at the UBS quarterly regulatory client update, and addressing the impact of the draft new financial regulations on asset management and investment funds. She is also one of the authors of the only standard and comprehensive commentary on Swiss investment fund law (Basler Kommentar). Her contribution covers the entire chapter on foreign funds.

She is consistently ranked in prestigious legal directories. Stephanie Comtesse has received awards for her work including the ILO Client Choice Award (securitisation and structured finance) in 2014, and the Women in Law Awards 2017 (Investment Fund Lawyer of the Year) from Lawyer Monthly.

WWL says: Stephanie Comtesse is “very active in the field of investment management”, according to interviewees. She is an expert in a number of matters relating to investment products and funds.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Switzerland which can be purchased from our Shop.

Who's Who Legal Private Funds: Formation

Stephanie Comtesse is a Swiss-American attorney with over 20 years experience in the fields of banking and finance. She heads MLL’s regulatory practice group for financial services and products. Stephanie Comtesse is further experienced in cross-border M&A transactions with regulatory implications. She is also involved in the latest legal developments linked to digitalisation, blockchain technology and fintech. A substantial part of her work has cross-border implications.

Her practice includes advising on (domestic and international) investment fund and asset management structures dedicated to a broad range of asset classes, establishing/licensing service providers and investment products, assisting foreign promoters in entering the Swiss market and dealing with compliance issues in relation to the provision of financial services, including AML. She also advises clients on all contractual and regulatory aspects of the management of pension fund assets and investment foundations. Stephanie Comtesse is a recognised representative for the listing of securities (including derivatives and structured products) at the SIX Swiss Exchange.

She has been actively involved in representing the interests of professional associations (eg, the Swiss Association of Foreign Banks) in the law-making process throughout her career and is a member of the Swiss Funds and Asset Management Association’s legal and compliance committee working group on international distribution.

Stephanie Comtesse is regularly invited to speak in Switzerland, Europe and the United States on current regulatory topics. She has published extensively throughout her career. Recent activity includes speaking at the UBS quarterly regulatory client update, and addressing the impact of the draft new financial regulations on asset management and investment funds. She is also one of the authors of the only standard and comprehensive commentary on Swiss investment fund law (Basler Kommentar). Her contribution covers the entire chapter on foreign funds.

She is consistently ranked in prestigious legal directories. Stephanie Comtesse has received awards for her work including the ILO Client Choice Award (securitisation and structured finance) in 2014, and the Women in Law Awards 2017 (Investment Fund Lawyer of the Year) from Lawyer Monthly.

WWL says: Stephanie Comtesse is an "excellent" practitioner who is "active in the field". She impresses peers with her extensive experience in asset management and private fund formation matters.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Private Funds which can be purchased from our Shop.

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