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Telling Swiss Secrets: A Banker’s Betrayal

By on September 12, 2012

Bradley Birkenfeld, former UBS Banker


Part 1: A UBS insider blows the whistle on Swiss banking.

It’s the inner sanctum of Swiss banking — the heavily-guarded nexus between numbered Swiss bank accounts and their owners’ good names — and it’s the rare American that is allowed entry.


Bradley Birkenfield  was one of the few Americans who held the keys to the kingdom. A Boston-born, high-flying, cross-border banker at Switzerland’s premier financial institution, UBS, he had access to the kind of secret account information that American law enforcement had only dreamed of through all the decades that terrorists, dictators, arms dealers, mafia dons and wealthy tax cheats had hidden behind the fortress of secrecy that Swiss banking promised.

At the start of business each morning, private bankers like Birkenfeld, then a director in the wealth management division of UBS, would check in at combination vaults to pull their “racks” — wooden trays of 4×5 paper index cards that are the Achilles heel of Swiss secrecy. Printed on each confidential client card — in plain, unencrypted typeset — is the client’s name, account and safety deposit box numbers, the fees paid, and home addresses and unique passwords — secret challenge phrases known only to the banker and the client that are used to verify identity on the phone (“Rose and Eagle” on a surreptitiously photocopied card Birkenfeld showed me).

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