UK financial climate triggers hedge fund advisory practice to launch in Switzerland

D Harris & Co International, which gives advice to financial institutions, corporates, investment firms and funds, opened an office in Zurich on 15 February to service the growing number of hedge fund managers that are moving to Switzerland.

The new office will ­comprise two lawyers: senior associate Susan Pages, who has relocated from London, and another lawyer who has yet to be named.

Daniel Harris, the firm’s founder and a former in-house counsel at Goldman Sachs, said the firm ­”anticipates growing quite soon” in Switzerland.

D Harris & Co will advise UK hedge fund managers in Switzerland on UK law ­matters.

Speaking about the firm’s move, Harris said: “It’s ­partly in response to ­market developments and anticipated market developments, and partly to allow our staff the flexibility of working in another place.

“There’s been a bit of a move out of London by some hedge fund managers recently. We still think ­London will remain the main centre for hedge funds in Europe, but there’s been a move. How much of a move it will be we still don’t know, but we want to be available to clients that fit into our profile of services.

“There’s definitely room for us in the Swiss market – we’re not directly competing with anyone there because we’re advising clients only on UK law, not Swiss law. We’ll be doing what we’re currently doing in London – advising fund managers on their day-to-day activities.”

The possibility of an ­exodus of financial service sector employees from ­London to Switzerland has been mooted ever since the Government revealed in 2009 that, from April 2010, people who are paid more than £150,000 a year will pay tax at 50 per cent.

According to reports, the Swiss authorities are ­actively lobbying UK hedge funds and other financial businesses to relocate to places such as Zurich, Geneva and Zug. Lawyers in Switzerland confirm that there is a lot of interest from UK companies and high-net-worth individuals, although they are yet to witness the mass migration prophesised by the press.

“We’ve seen many requests from fund managers from London, but this hasn’t yet translated into a migration – they’re testing the waters,” said Alexander Troller, a partner at Lalive in Geneva. “Swiss domestic players are gearing up too. The prime asset management firms in Switzerland are gearing up their practices and seeking additional licences to be able to play in the same league as major potential newcomers.”

Since the downturn Switzerland, with its decades-old tradition of banking secrecy, has come under fire from governments that want to force Swiss banks to reveal clients’ names in an effort to stop tax evasion (The Lawyer, 15 February).

D Harris & Co’s six-lawyer London office was ­established in 2004 and counts among its members former Slaughter and May lawyer Christopher Acton.