Doing Business in Geneva: A guide for entrepreneurs

For entrepreneurs and multi-national corporations alike, Switzerland is an attractive location for doing business. In fact, the FutureBrand Country Index 2020 report ranks the central European nation as the world’s second best based on brand perception. In a year when trading conditions have been disrupted by Covid-19, Switzerland demonstrated its business resilience by rising up one place when compared with last year’s report.

In comparison with other leading economies, Switzerland is relatively small. But its ‘purchasing power’ cannot be ignored. Two of its cities rank among the world’s 15 leading Global Financial Centres Index: Zurich (10th) and Geneva (14th). Geneva may have been leap-frogged by Zurich in the latest index, but it is still a magnet for creative and talented entrepreneurs. But there are some important things to note when starting a business here in order to achieve success.

Global Geneva: What makes it an appealing location?

In the city and canton of Geneva, more than 3,000 new businesses register each year. Not only is the canton home to around 1,000 global businesses, but several international institutions and organizations have also set up home in Geneva. It means there’s a truly international gathering of minds and ideas that entrepreneurs can benefit from.

There are several reasons why Geneva is an attractive location to do business – and why many have already selected it. In terms of location, the canton benefits from a geographical presence at the center of western Europe. It is located close to Switzerland’s western border with France, while its airport serves more than 100 prominent destinations for convenient travel links.

It offers a favorable business environment too; one that naturally benefits from the respectable standing that Switzerland enjoys in terms of its international competitiveness and ease of doing business. For entrepreneurs considering their next move, Geneva offers a welcoming regulatory environment from the outset – with economic freedoms that very few other cities can rival.

Understanding the business culture of Switzerland

Geneva sits in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. English is widely spoken – but just to offer a few words of greeting in Swiss French is well-received when doing business here. 

In terms of the prevailing business culture, the Swiss tend to be risk averse and value attention to detail. Punctuality is another crucial trait to consider when setting up business meetings with potential partners and clients. It is also worth noting that Swiss firms will adopt very traditional hierarchies and structures. Knowing the correct person to contact, therefore, is paramount.

You should not overlook the importance of body language either. Firm handshakes, eye contact and conservative attire are essential to upholding the business etiquette you will encounter.

The key considerations for doing business in Geneva

Of course, there are numerous things you can do in advance of setting up a business in Geneva to ensure the best chance of success. But there are other important factors to consider – not least for entrepreneurs based overseas. From tax compliance to regulatory approvals, it can be well worth enlisting the support of a global specialist such as RSM. This will give you the chance to access to expertise and insight you need to make a seamless entry into the Swiss market.    

Having that local knowledge at your disposal is invaluable. It helps you avoid any costly delays, maximize opportunities, and ensure full compliance. Geneva can be the springboard to success as a global entrepreneur. But failing to adapt and integrate to the nuances of business in Switzerland could undermine and even eliminate your prospects before you even get started.