No self-respecting big-money criminal would stash his loot in anything but a legendarily secretive Swiss bank account. In the hands of particularly lazy thriller writers, merely possessing a Swiss bank account is proof positive that a person is up to no good.
In more recent stories, an account in an offshore tax haven, such as the Cayman Islands, may be substituted.
In real life, the usefulness of these numbered accounts is limited, due to how hard it is to get one nowadays. The Swiss, well aware of their banks' increasing reputation as havens for no-good-niks (not particularly helped by their willingness to stash Nazi Gold, though they were originally formed to help people hide money from the Gestapo), require numerous references and a general OK from the person's country of origin. You can certainly get an Account with a Swiss Bank - although if you're a foreign national, the bank will take a copy of your residence permit and passport details - but it will just be a regular bank account in Switzerland, not this trope. Some of the original anonymous accounts that gave rise to this trope do apparently still exist, but under current regulations they cannot be transferred to other people so - eventually - every one of them will be closed.
In any case, truly anonymous bank accounts are a thing of fiction. Even if protected by a code number, the identity of the client (and usually the source of the funds as well) is known by the chairman and high-ranking personnel of the bank, either in Switzerland or other tax havens. Money laundering and stashing of dubious funds are the province of professional accountants, finance experts, and (of course) lawyers, who know how to give a decent face to the business they manage. Don't try to just approach a bank with a Briefcase Full of Money and no plausible story and expect it to work.note
- In the Tintin adventure Flight 714, there is an amoral corporate executive who is abducted so the villain can obtain the details of his Swiss bank account.
- In the Asterix adventure Asterix in Switzerland, Petitsuix opens a Helvetian bank account and stashes Asterix and Obelix in a safe to hide them from the Romans. They get hungry in the middle of the night and, since the safe wasn't meant to be opened from inside, Obelix simply kicks the door off its hinges. The bank's owner, Zurix, has the Gauls moved to someone else's safe. That someone else turns out to be the Roman centurion who comes searching for the Gauls, finds the broken safe and questions the bank's security (while sheepishly justifying why he has such an account to his men).
- In the film version of The Bourne Identity, the amnesiac hero starts out with no clue to his identity except the details of a Swiss bank account.
- The Spy Who Loved Me. After the two scientists complete the submarine tracking system, Stromberg transfers $10 million into their Swiss bank accounts. He then kills them, and cancels the transfers.
- The Spanish Prisoner.
Jimmy Dell: You now have a Swiss bank account if anybody asks. Credit Nationale Du Geneve, code name 'PADDY'. Lavish awkward gesture. All of fifteen Swiss Francs in it, but if you ever want to impress anybody, they can find out you have a Swiss account. But, Swiss law prohibits the bank from revealing the balance. Thus are all men made equal.
- The Order. The character Ben Nur has one.
- General M. Bison from the Street Fighter movie has one, which he wants the $20,000,000,000 ransom wired to.
- Fun with Dick and Jane: The local bad guy has stashed all his plundered money in an account like this (it's never mentioned what country it belongs to).
- A group of mercenaries are being briefed in the comedy Water:
French agent: This is a dangerous mission, and some of you will die. But remember, in a world gone mad, you will die for a principle that you all hold close to your heart. Money!
Mercenaries: Viva franc! Viva deutschmark! Viva dollar! Viva numbered bank account in Switzerland!
- At the end of F/X: Murder by Illusion, Rollie and Leo use Rollie's special effects makeup expertise (and the stolen account information) to drain Nick DeFranco's Swiss bank account of nearly ten million dollars before the Swiss bankers find out that Nick has been killed.
- In the film Samurai Cop, the villian Fujiyama is accused of being a 'death merchant' who deposits his vast riches into a Swiss account
- Implied in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. When Holmes and Moriarty have a discussion about Moriarty's assets, Moriarty claims that he's rather fond of Switzerland. They know how to respect a man's privacy there, especially when he has a large personal fortune.
- Where Sebastian Shaw keeps his ill-gotten gains in X-Men: First Class.
- Subverted in The Last Stand. The Big Bad is fond of bribing cops to get his way. When it's suspected that he's done so, the FBI chief has his department investigated, easily tracks down the one bribed through a Swiss bank account, and even chastises said mole for thinking it was beyond their reach.
- In The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Thomas deposits a large pile of small bills in Switzerland after the bank heist in Boston. Investigator Vicky observes that the Swiss are "notoriously casual about certain formalities," like searching airline baggage.
- In Munich, Avner opens these for his mission to assassinate the Black September leadership. He and each of the men on his team gets one to hold their accumulated salary, and the other receives $250,000 for operational expenses. The Mossad accountant sternly tells him to keep receipts to justify using the unlimited funds.
- In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, the amnesiac hero starts out with no clue to his identity except the details of a Swiss bank account. This doesn't ultimately turn out to be a sign that he was a villain, but he did have something to hide.
- Robert Ludlum, again, plays with the lazy version of the trope in The Ostermann Weekend. The protagonist discovers that a man who may be a foreign spy has a Swiss bank account, and considers this to be Evidence, but it turns out that the man is innocent, and his response to being accused of having a Swiss bank account is basically, "Yes, I do. What's your point?"
- Artemis Fowl has several Swiss Bank Accounts, though probably not as many as when he was still (moderately) evil. A couple of villains (most noteably in The Eternity Code) also had Swiss Bank Accounts, ripe for Artemis to dig his fingers into.
- Jack Ryan:
- In Rainbow Six, Dmitri Popov sets up a Swiss Bank Account for the terrorists he's hired, as a secure way to transfer their payment to them. Once it becomes obvious that they're going to fail at the mission, he transfers all the money to an account he set up for himself.
- In Clear and Present Danger, the mystique of this trope is bluntly deconstructed, not only because the Cartel having their drug accounts in Swiss banks does nothing to protect them from seizure once their illegality is discovered, but it's explicitly pointed out the only thing that makes the banks more secure is that fact the countries they reside in weren't invaded as much, giving the illusion of security.
- In The Da Vinci Code, one of the clues to the Holy Grail is held in a Swiss bank.
- In the Stephen King short story "The Deathroom", the protagonist thinks that "in the end there might only be one way to tell the thugs from the patriots: when they saw their own death rising in your eyes like water, patriots made speeches. The thugs, on the other hand, gave you the number of their Swiss bank account and offered to put you on-line."
- People in the various John Grisham novels prefer accounts in the Grand Caymans to accounts in Switzerland. Even the good guys do their banking there.
- In The Dogs of War a Corrupt Corporate Executive is buying shares from an eccentric heiress and is cautioned by the Swiss banker not to put his bank's name on the cheque as little old ladies tend to think of Swiss banks accounts as fulfilling this trope.
- Subverted in MARZENA: while undergoing a Journey to the Center of the Mind to steal the banking information of some criminal crook who goes by the alias of Dr. Sam, we find out the hard way that he doesn't have a Bank Account in Zurich, although Kristen and Lauren seemed to think that he did.
- On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett. Ross Perot and his executives are approached by a shady character who offers to get their colleagues out of an Iranian prison in exchange for a considerable amount of money to be paid into an escrow account (meaning the money isn't handed over till after the deal). After debating the matter, they decide to refuse because they suspect they're being set up for a bribery charge.
- One figures into the plot of Fatherland as the hiding place of documents providing evidence of the (long ago completed) Holocaust. The original purpose of such accounts is also touched upon - the Gestapo is said to be particularly suspicious of people with them.
- In Death: Chief Simpson uses one to hide his illegal transactions.
- In A College of Magics, one of the minor antagonists turns out to have embezzled a lot of money and stashed it in a bank account in Zurich.
- The Villain Protagonist of Kessler has a Swiss bank account containing wealth looted from occupied Europe during WW2, and gaining access to these funds is a source of tension with his fellow Nazis, between the younger members who want to fund a neo-Nazi resurgence and the older generation who just want to live comfortably in exile.
- In The Pretender, episode "Collateral Damage", Jarod hacks into the villain of the week's Swiss bank account to confirm that he's been receiving payoffs from a drug cartel.
- Burn Notice
- Episode "Friends and Enemies":
Michael Westen: Who do you work for?
Gregory Hart: I work for an 11-digit Swiss bank account number, and an anonymous email address.
- Michael's friend Barry specializes in setting those up and using them to launder money for criminals and spies.
- In one episode a government agent is trying to bully Michael so he has Barry set up an offshore account in the agent's name. They then move the same few thousand dollars in and out of the account repeatedly to make it seem like the agent is receiving payoffs through the account. Michael then blackmails the agent with this to have him back off.
- Episode "Friends and Enemies":
- Mission: Impossible: In "the Council" episode, the mobsters are using a swiss bank account.
- In the Human Target Season 2 premiere Ilsa (a a good person) has a vault in a Swiss bank which can only be entered with retina scans of both Ilsa and her late husband; the bad guy uses her (in a hostage situation) and her dead husband's eyeball, removed from his body to get in to steal their billions. In another episode she transfers a couple mil from her Swiss bank to a local bank specifically in order to draw out some Dirty Cops who were looking for her; in that same episode the main bad guy has an offshore bank account in Barbados where he stores his ill-gotten gains.
- An episode of Murphy Brown had a millionaire fall in love with Murphy and shower her with expensive gifts to try to get her to marry him, until he flat out tries to bribe her with a large check. She says no, the guy finally relents...and proposes to Kay, who immediately accepts. When Murphy is horrified and calls Kay out on this, her response is, "Don't worry. I'll have this money in my Cayman Islands account before we're within miles of an altar." (Because Status Quo Is God the guy divorces her and takes back the money.)
- The unsophisticated drug lord Marlo Stanfield from The Wire has to be introduced to this trope (Antillean off-shore version) and even then he decides to visit the bank in person to verify that his money is actually there.
- In a Saturday Night Live sketch, Steve Martin lists his top wishes, including $30 million a month deposited directly into his Swiss bank account.
- Farscape give us Shadow Depositories; privately-held banks that service the criminal scum of the Uncharted Territories. Their security measures are every bit as good as the top secret, maximum security military bases of any of the warring stellar nations.
- There's one in Smiley's People, the TV adaptation of the spy novel series The Quest for Karla.
- Champions adventure Red Doom. When Colonel Vasalov hires some supervillains to attack the heroes, he promises to pay each of them with $100,000 in a Swiss bank account.
- In the game Junta, the object is to divert as much money as possible into your family's Swiss bank account.
- In the D&D setting Eberron, House Kundarak fills this role, a Dragonmarked House of dwarven bankers from a mountainous country who will give anyone who can afford it a high-security vault.
- In Evita, the corrupt government's lavish spending is explained in the song "And The Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)", which is all about Eva's charity work until the last verse:
If the money keeps rolling in what's a girl to do?
Cream a little off the top for expenses—wouldn't you?
But where on Earth can people hide their little piece of Heaven?
Thank God for Switzerland
Where a girl and a guy with a little petty cash between them
Can be sure when they deposit no-one's seen them
Oh what bliss to sign your checks as three-o-one-two-seven
Never been accounts in the name of Eva Peron!
- In Mega Man 9, the villainous Dr Wily is revealed to have a Swiss bank account with the account number 19-871-217 (a shout-out to the original game, released on 1987-12-17).
- Druglord: The player-character's bank is supposed to be a Swiss bank.
- In the game Tropico, one of the scoring metrics is how much money you can embezzle into your Swiss bank account. El Presidente can earn funds through the Building Permit edict (which increases all building costs by 20% to earn 10% of the cost), setting childhood museums to "Retirement Fund" mode, setting the customs office to "Customs Duty Evasion" (which requires paying customs officers $25 each to keep quiet), setting banks to "Slush Fund" mode (which only works while the treasury is positive), turning ruins into excavation sites, and building the mausoleum. Until the Modern Times expansion, there was no use for the Swiss account. In Modern Times, a minimum Swiss bank balance is required to upgrade the palace to a presidency and set water treatment plants, sanatoria, and SWAT HQs to "Happy Powder," "Psych Ward," and "Personal Death Squad" modes.
- In Day of the Tentacle, Dr. Edison has a Swiss Bank account that's almost completely depleted. One of the more significant puzzles in the game requires you to get access to the account through trickery, then find a way to get a lot of money into it, so that you can use the money to buy a really big diamond.
- 80% of your loot in PAYDAY 2 goes into an "offshore account." It can only be used to purchase contracts (rather than waiting for them to become available or joining another player's game), go infamous (the first five ranks costs $200M), and bet in "Offshore Paydays" for additional loot drops.
- It's revealed in Metal Gear Solid 3 that the Allies (plus China) pooled their funds together for the war effort in World War II and kept them hidden in various locations around the world with Switzerland being one of them.
- Early on in Sluggy Freelance, Bun-Bun makes a killing by setting up a viagra trade in Tijuana, and has his profits stored in Switzerland.
- G.I. Joe
- The Cayman Islands version appears in The Simpsons, "Bart the Fink":
Cayman Islands guy: (on phone) I'm sorry, I can't divulge information about that customer's secret illegal account.
Oh, Crap! I shouldn't have said he was a customer.
Oh, Crap! I shouldn't have said it was a secret.
Oh, Crap! I certainly shouldn't have said it was illegal.
It's too hot today.
- Biker Mice from Mars has made reference to a "Swiss Cheese account" on two occasions.
- The episode "Pitfall" has the series' main antagonist Lawrence Limburger and lawyer Perry Provoloni attempt to blackmail their Plutarkian leader Lord Camembert with proof that he is hiding embezzled funds in his Swiss Cheese account.
- The three-part Origins Episode "Once Upon a Time on Mars" has Limburger use forged release notes for his former superior Dominic T. Stilton's Swiss Cheese account to bribe the Martian government into allowing Plutark to invade Mars.
- In an early episode of Family Guy, when the Griffins inherit a huge mansion, Peter fully adopts a snooty rich attitude and mentions he has one of these. Lois tells him he doesn't, and he tells his conversation partners that hes keeping it secret from Lois in case things don't work out.
- In the Thanksgiving episode of Regular Show, Rich Buckner attempts to use the golden wishbone of a turducken bred only once every million years to wish for the rights to Thanksgiving as well as a large sum of money hidden in an untraceable Swiss bank account.
- Miles Mayhem, leader of V.E.N.O.M., is said to have a Swiss bank account in the M.A.S.K. episode "Bad Vibrations".
- In the Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles episode "Genesis Undone", Dr. Anton Sevarius attempts to trick Thailog into injecting himself with the clone virus at an advanced stage by claiming that he'll give him the cure if he sends him a large amount of money through his Swiss account.
- The late Nigerian military dictator, Sani Abacha, had a huge stash of money hidden in a secret Swiss bank account.
- Yasser Arafat had one as well.