Swiss Investors May Not Lose Access to US-Domiciled ETFs in 2022| Updated: |
(Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links)
Update 2022: Nothing happened in 2022, and likely nothing will happen
Update 2021: It seems likely that we will be able to keep investing in U.S. ETFs in 2022.
Since the beginning of 2019, Swiss investors cannot buy Exchanged Traded Funds (ETFs) domiciled in the United States from my previous broker, DEGIRO. This event is bad news for Swiss investors.
This problem is due to new regulations that will come into play. These regulations have already affected all European investors since 2018. But Switzerland was not affected before. We will see what has changed. These issues are based on several European and Swiss laws. These laws are sad news for European investors and Swiss investors. I am not a legal expert at all. So this is only my interpretation of these laws. If I am wrong or I missed something, please let me know!
Normally, this should only come into effect in January 2022. But DEGIRO decided to implement this earlier, effectively cutting Swiss Investors from the best ETFs available. I have now switched to Interactive Brokers.
In this article, we see why this is happening. And we will also see what are the different options for us. There are several possible solutions to this issue. But none of them is perfect, as we will see.
PRIIPs Regulation for European investors
It all started in January 2018, when PRIIPs regulations entered into effect. PRIIPS is a part of the bigger Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) II law. PRIIPs or Packaged Retail and Insurance-based Investment Products is a regulation that is supposed to protect investors. I will not go into details about the law.
I will only focus on the part that is the problem now. These regulations enforce that all funds provide a so-called Key Investor Document (KID). This document must give some information about the funds and some standardized advice and recommendations to investors. Supposedly, it was made to ensure that all investors have access to all the necessary information to invest in these funds.
When this law came into force, U.S. fund providers did not provide any KID documents. And therefore, brokers stopped offering them to their European customers. For these fund providers, where most clients are from the U.S., providing these documents is not a priority. Doing so is too costly for little advantage. For instance, Vanguard already stated that they would not comply with these regulations. That means that for European customers, the only option is to use European ETFs.
Forcing people to invest in European Funds is what the European Union wanted. This law has nothing to do about protecting investors. It is only a strategy by European fund providers to force European investors to invest in their sub-par funds instead of better U.S. funds. Instead of providing better funds, they forced people to use their funds. Forcing people to invest in their funds is sad. This law is supposed to protect investors. But it is doing them a disservice by forcing them to invest in inferior products and reducing their investment options.
PRIIPs regulations are enforced to people from the European Economic Area (EEA). And Switzerland is not part of the EEA. Therefore, Swiss investors were not affected by this problem last year.
So why am I talking about this issue? DEGIRO just stopped offering these ETFs to its Swiss customers. I can still sell my positions. But I cannot buy any more of these ETFs. It is because of a new set of Swiss laws that will soon come into force. Let’s take a look at these Swiss laws now.
FinIA/FinSA for Swiss investors
In 2018, the Swiss government voted two new laws: the Financial Services Act (FinSA) and the Financial Institutions Act (FinIA). Once again, I will not go into details about these laws. They are more or less a copy of the European laws for Swiss investors. They also enforce each fund to offer a Key Investor Documented (KID) to all Swiss investors. So, they cause the same issue to Swiss investors that PRIIPS caused to European investors.
Once again, I have the same perspective on this law as I have on the other one. It is just a crude attempt to force people to invest in bad funds and block the U.S. funds instead of improving European funds.
This new set of laws will enter into force on January 1, 2020. However, several of the items will take longer to be active. From my understanding, only in 2022 will we lose access to U.S. ETF.
From January 2022, Swiss investors will not be able to invest in non-compliant ETFs and funds. So, Swiss investors will only be able to invest in Swiss and European funds.
And there are several interpretations of the law. I have not been able to find a good source of information that would clearly state whether we will or will not lose access to our great U.S. ETFs. But we should be safe until at least 2022.
That is still giving us until 2022, no? Yes, it should indeed give us several years before these regulations come into force for us. So why did DEGIRO already enforce this? It seems that DEGIRO decided to start implementing them early for reasons of their own. Supposedly, they said that they believe this will protect the investors.
I think they are doing that to simplify their systems to have the same set of offers for all Europeans. I think this a bad move on their side. There has been no communication whatsoever about this. One morning, my products were closed with the message “Product is closed for the client”. DEGIRO did a lousy job handling the situation, in my opinion.
So what can we do? I see a few solutions to this problem. Let’s examine each of them.
Solution 1: Change broker? Temporary!
If you are still using DEGIRO, you can switch to another broker. This will give you until 2022 at least to use U.S. ETF.
It is what I did. And I currently can invest in U.S. ETF. It is really worth changing brokers just for this reason.
However, as the two Swiss laws become applicable to all brokers in 2022, that could be the end of it. After that point, I may have to find another solution anyway. Interactive Brokers already stopped offering these ETFs to European investors last year, per the law. So, I think they will follow the law in 2022 and stop offering these to Swiss investors.
Solution 2: Change funds?
Another solution is to comply with the new dumb law and switch to European-domiciled funds. We will not lose access to U.S. stock market indexes, only U.S. funds. There are equivalent European tracking the same indexes. However, this is not a very good solution. European funds are more expensive and smaller. And there is less choice for funds around.
For instance, the fund that I will miss is Vanguard Total World (VT). This fund replicates the performance of the entire world market. It manages around 17 billion dollars of stocks. And it has a Total Expense Ratio (TER) of 0.10%. It is made of more than 8000 different stocks. VT is a great ETF.
On the European side, there is no full world ETF, at least not in the acceptable TER range. The closer they get is with Developed World ETF. But that still means it is necessary to own several ETFs instead of a single one.
If I had to choose one European Developed World ETF, I would probably go with iShares Core MSCI World UCITS ETF. It has around 1600 stocks in 23 developed countries and manages more than 14 billion dollars. It has a TER of 0.20%. That is twice more expensive for an inferior fund. It is not bad, of course. But it pales in comparison to VT.
If I were to switch to the European equivalent of VT, I would probably have to hold two funds. And they would be more expensive than VT. So, I am not convinced by this solution. Another thing that shows that these laws are not doing anything good for the investors.
To learn more, you can check out the entire ETF Portfolio with European Funds I would have used.
Solution 3: Use several funds?
The next solution I am thinking of is to use European funds but not use a World fund. It is possible to replicate the performance of a world fund by holding several region funds. Of course, it is still better to own the world fund if there is a good option. But in Europe, there is no great option of a world fund.
The Vanguard Total World (VT) ETF is composed of stocks from these regions:
- North America: 58.40%
- Europe: 18.60%
- Pacific: 13.30%
- Emerging Markets: 9.40%
- Middle East: 0.20%
- Other: 0.10%
We can safely ignore the last two ones and still replicate the world market fund’s performance accurately. That means we would need to hold four funds. You need one U.S. ETF, one Europe ETF, one Pacific ETF, and one Emerging Markets ETF. If you want to have better accuracy, you could also add Canada that is usually included in North America. Or you could find a North American ETF. But I did not find a good one.
It is not a great solution, but this would still beat a world ETF from a European provider. It would be a better TER. You can find U.S. ETF around 0.07% in Europe. And since the U.S. is about 55% of the VT ETF, this would bring down the global TER.
The problem is that you have four funds instead of one. I think that simplicity should be preferred in a portfolio. It may make rebalancing a bit more complicated as some funds may underperform or outperform the others. And you may have to change the allocations if there is a shift in the world’s economy. But I still think it beats having a 0.20% TER fund.
Solution 4: Be a professional investor
You may have noticed that in this article, I have talked especially about retail investors. It is because both the European laws and Swiss laws consider different professional investors and retail investors.
They only apply to retail investors. So, if you are a professional investor, you can still use the good old U.S. funds! I am not a professional investor, and I doubt that you are either. However, there is a kind of loophole in the Swiss version of the law. It states that certain high net worth individuals may choose to opt-out of the law and be treated as professional investors. There is also this loophole in the European version of the law. But the conditions are slightly different.
In the law, a high net worth individual is described as one that:
- Either declare that they understand the risks of the investment under their qualification and have at least 500’000 CHF.
- Or dispose of at least two million CHF.
We can see that there is a loophole for the rich. The European Union does not want to hurt the rich that are in the European Union. Another stupid part of this law. I am far from filling these conditions yet. But it is not rare in the personal finance community to see people with more than 500’000 CHF. They could apply to opt-out and be considered professionals investors.
Now, I do not know how difficult it will be to opt-out. And I do not know if this will make you qualified as a professional investor for taxes. In which case, capital gains will be taxed. That is something to consider. But it could be a very good option for people who already have a high net worth. It is something I may do in a few years.
Why can’t European invest in U.S. ETFs anymore?
Since 2018, PRIIPS regulations disallow European investors to invest in U.S. Funds. These regulations only allow investment in funds with a Key Investor Document (KID). And U.S. funds and ETFs do not provide this KID.
What are the PRIIPS regulations?
Packaged Retail and Insurance-based Investment Products are regulations to protect European investors. It prevents them from investing in funds without a Key Investor Document (KID). In practice, this prevents European investors to invest in U.S. Funds. The need for KID is part of the biggest set of laws called the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID).
What are the FinIA/FinSA laws?
The Financial Services Acct (FinSA) and the Financial Institutions Act (FinIA) are the Swiss equivalents of the MiFID laws from the European Union. These laws will enter into effect in January 2020, but will only affect foreign brokers in 2022. And effectively, they should prevent Swiss investors to invest in U.S. funds.
Everything you need to buy stocks and ETFs, reliably and at extremely affordable prices. Trade U.S. stocks for as little as 0.5 USD!
- Extremely affordable
- Wide range of investing instruments
The possible future loss of the U.S. ETFs is sad news for European and Swiss investors. The best alternative is to invest in European funds. But they are more expensive. And there is also less choice.
I think that the people who crafted this law did not care about Swiss investors but only about European fund providers. There is no doubt that this will profit European funds. Maybe in the future, it will increase their quality and price. But I am not very confident about that. It is a local lockdown of the market. Instead of protecting the customer, they are locking him into inferior choices.
Because of the poor handling of this law by DEGIRO, DEGIRO users already lost access to U.S. ETFs, several years in advance. I lost confidence in DEGIRO. It is why I switched to Interactive Brokers.
With this, I can still invest in good U.S. funds until at least 2022. After January 2022, I will still hold these funds and invest in the European equivalents for the future.
If you are still using DEGIRO and want access to U.S. ETFs as a Swiss Investor, I recommend switching to Interactive Brokers.
To see an ETF Portfolio without any U.S. ETF, take a look at my European ETF Portfolio.
If you are considering U.S. ETFs, you may want to read about the U.S. estate tax.
What about you? What your strategy be when we do not have access to U.S. funds anymore?
Download this e-book and optimize your finances and save money by using the best financial services available in Switzerland!Download The FREE e-book
162 thoughts on “Swiss Investors May Not Lose Access to US-Domiciled ETFs in 2022”
Hello Mr. Poor Swiss,
I just opened an IB account (Swiss residency) and was wondering if it still makes sense to invest in US ETFs when the restrictions can be introduced at any time. Are there any news regarding this topic? Looking forward to your feedback.
Currently, I think we will keep access to those ETFs, and nothing will change with IB. So, I think it totally makes sense to still use them.
Unfortunately that doesn’t work for me living in Belgium – US ETFs are unavailable neither via local brokers nor via IB. Trial IB account shows it as a possible option, but after opening the real one I found that I can’t buy one as you said exactly because US ETFs miss KIDs.
Yes, unfortunately, there is no great way for EU members to get access to these US ETFs.
The Swiss Federal Council has made the decision to align the Swiss deadlines with those for the European PRIIPs KID. As a result, providing a KID will become mandatory from 1 January 2023.”
So no US ETFs ??
I still believe that as long as long as we are using an execution-only broker, the Swiss regulations will not prevent us from investing in US ETFs. But I am not a lawyer and I have not read these hundreds of pages of regulations entirely. So, at this point, I am just saying “wait and see”!
thank you so much for covering this topic! I’m a Swiss-based investor too, also using IB as my main broker. During 2022, I have been buying several US and Canadian covered call ETFs, even going into margin, because I feared we might lose the opportunity to buy them. They’re amazing income-creating tools yielding between 10-15% and this is something that I’m entirely missing among European ETFs: European covered call ETFs. The margin interest rate of around 3% is easily covered by the high yield, so that I wasn’t too hesitant buying these ETFs on debt before I lose the opportunity overall. I really hope all US ETFs will remain investable for us.
Yes, I also hope we keep these ETFs!
Keep in mind that covered call ETFs will underperform the index. In a down-turn, you should make up for that with very high dividends, but not in a bull market.
yes I know some of them will underperform when the market goes up again, but I was recently buying a lot of them at low prices so that the high dividends plus some share price appreciation will do what I’m aiming for. I want to retire on my investments as soon as possible, I don’t have 10 years or more to rely on the dividend growth strategy alone. I combine several strategies, one of which is the high yield strategy relying on covered calls. I wonder when we will finally have European covered call ETFs available. Regarding performance: the JEPI ETF eg even outperformed the S&P 500 recently when factoring in the generous 10-12% yield. The best dividend ETF of all the US ETFs is however SCHD. This one has beaten the S&P500 over years and pays a much higher dividend than any S&P500 ETF. It would be so sad if lost all these investment opportunities. Thanks again for your work! Jürgen
thank you for your great blog! Do you think it still makes sense to start investing in US ETFs now if we will maybe loose access to them this year? Will it not make the portfolio more complicated if we have to change to European Funds in less than a year? What would you do if you would start investing now? Thanks for your comment.
At this point, I do not believe we will lose access to these funds. I continue investing in these funds and recommend people do the same.
Even if we lose, we can keep the US ETFs and start investing in UE ETFs instead.
I had the same question as Dan. Just to be sure I fully understand your last sentence and also what you said in the article (“I can still sell my positions. But I cannot buy any more of these ETFs”): if we lose access to US ETFs, we won’t be forced to sell our shares (we CAN sell them but won’t be forced to), however we cannot buy more (or re-inject our dividends) into these ETFs? Did I get that right?
Thanks! (and thanks for the whole site btw)
You got that right. That’s what happened last time to EU investors when PRIIPS started. We have no guarantee that the same will happen if Swiss investors lose access to US ETFs, but it seems likely.
If we Swiss retail investor lost access to US-ETFs one day, it would be an immeasurable loss, especially during this year’s bear market that may last more than 1 year. All the US Inverse ETFs are live saving opportunities.
More I trade US ETFs, more I feel worried about I can’t do this anymore one day.
I really really wish the Swiss version wouldn’t apply to IB.
I don’t think it would be such a big deal.
Yes, they are better, we save on fees and on taxes, which is great. In total, it’s maybe a 0.30% reduction in total fees. This is not negligible. But we can still invest with European ETFs.
You should be careful about inverse ETFs, this is market timing at its best.
I am just discovery this blog post now (march 2022). What did happen in the end? is it still possible to buy US ETFs on IB or on degiro?
Nothing happened in 2022. Some parts of the regulations were delayed, but it now seems likely this will not change anything for IB users.
hellow Mr Poor Swiss,
out of interest would you know what happens if we lost access to these US ETF funds if one has have already invested in them? do we have to sell and buy europe ones or you just keep whatever balance you have for example in the VT all world and pursue the others available from then on? how does it work?
If IB does what DEGIRO did, you would be able to keep your balance but just not be able to buy any more shares. This is what I think would happen.
But it could happen differently.
You seem to be suggesting that (post-2023) the only way to buy US ETFs is through a foreign broker e.g IB. However on other websites they write that, under the new FINSA law, ETFs without KIDs will still be able to be bought through a Swiss broker, e.g SQ, provided that the broker does not suggest the purchase, i.e that the broker is execution only.
What is the real position?
The situation is still unclear at this point. It’s correct that this is likely to be working for execution-only brokers. For instance, that’s what Swissquote is doing.
However, I never got a precise answer with reference to the regulations themselves for that.
My current plan is to change nothing and my current thinking is that nothing will change in 2022 or 2023.