Moving abroad and working in a foreign country for a while is on many Swiss people’s wish list. Patrizia Rigassi seized an opportunity that came her way, and swapped Spreitenbach in Aargau for Tokyo, Japan, to take up a new job. In the interview she talks about her experience of moving abroad, the new challenges she faced and a fair few surprises. The specialist team for Swiss people abroad at Cantonal Bank of Zurich (ZKB) made sure that everything worked out well when it came to her finances.

Let’s start at the beginning: what qualities are important to you in a banking relationship?

I think it’s important to have an open, fast and transparent relationship. As well as this, it’s important for me to have a personal advisor who is available for all financial questions I might have and who’s easy to get in touch with. Being able to do e-banking in a way which is simple and clear is also key.

You lead a team in Japan for your employer. What is the biggest change for you?

Definitely the language. Not many people speak English in Japan and all communication is in Japanese. This includes restaurant menus, official letters, phone calls to the local bank or doctor and even the computer keyboard. Fortunately, there is ‘Google Image Translate’.

What cultural differences have you noticed?

Essentially, Japanese culture has a lot in common with Swiss culture. Just like us, showing respect, being friendly, punctual and respecting the rules, for example, are very important. But at the same time, there are a lot of differences. A person’s business card and their job title are very important in working life. In Switzerland, we like to brainstorm about different topics and projects before we start implementing them – brainstorming is quite rare in Japan. And when my team members come back from their holidays, they thank me for letting them go away.

Had you been considering moving to Japan for a while or did you originally have other destinations in mind?

My dream destinations were originally Australia and Portugal because I do a lot of water sports. But after I had the chance to take part in a leadership programme in India, I realised that I’d get a lot more out of going to a country further away to develop myself, to get to know a completely different market and to rediscover marketing. And then I got the chance to go to Japan.

What surprised you when you moved to Japan?

Since the Japanese are very considerate they tend to speak softly, which means that Tokyo, the largest city in the world, is still very quiet and orderly. That surprised me a lot.

You only left Switzerland a few months ago (July 2023). Please tell us more about what your new life is like on a day-to-day basis.

During the week, I alternate between working from home and from the office. Since the lunch menus in restaurants are comparatively cheap – often cheaper than if you cook yourself – I often eat out for lunch. In the evening, I either sort out my new flat or go out and discover a new neighbourhood in Tokyo. And at weekends I go surfing at the beach! Unfortunately, earthquakes and typhoons are part of everyday life from time to time.

Do you have any tips on how to work successfully with people from other cultures?

You should take time to listen and get to know people from different backgrounds. You need to be open towards the people and the new culture and make the effort to adapt on the important things, while at the same time remaining true to yourself. It sometimes helps a lot to have another foreigner there who you can trust to ask for advice. It’s often very helpful to have a lot of patience as well.

What do you miss about Switzerland?

Good bread.

What tips can you give to other people emigrating to Japan?

  • Download Google Image Translate – the app helps you navigate through everyday life.
  • Buy a name stamp (Hanko), because otherwise you can’t open a bank account.
  • Be open to new things, be curious and be patient.

Enjoy this great country, the incredible nature, the great food and the crazy cities!

To finish off, what makes ZKB stand out above other banks?

I have felt very well looked after by ZKB for years. Any queries I have are dealt with very quickly, straightforwardly and professionally. I really appreciate the personal contact with my bank advisor, and this support has made moving abroad very easy.


Banking for Swiss citizens abroad: to the other end of the world

Silvan Köchli has been with ZKB for over 12 years and completed an apprenticeship with the bank. He has worked in Private Banking International since 2022, and before that in the Swiss business at the Klusplatz and Kreuzplatz branches.

 How much support can you offer to Swiss people moving abroad?

Moving abroad comes with a lot of big changes, some of which of course are of a financial nature. It is important to get comprehensive, tailor-made and individual solutions depending on your own life situation. As well as a broad range of products and services, we offer Swiss people living abroad a comprehensive advisory service with solutions in the areas of payments, savings and investments as well as real estate financing for Swiss properties – all from a single source – for life, even if they move again.

You have also worked as a client advisor in the Swiss market. How does Private Banking International differ from the Swiss business?

My clients living abroad are of course in a different situation compared to the clients I had working in the Swiss business. It’s fulfilling to be able to help our clients with their financial and personal needs when they move abroad, despite sometimes being thousands of kilometres away. As well as my passion for banking, I have always been inspired by the different and exciting stories people have. Of course there are also particular legal and regulatory issues as well compared to the local business in Switzerland, which can be an exciting challenge to work with.

Are you emigrating? We support you with our expertise. Find out more here.

Would you like to get to know other exciting ZKB customers? Meet Günter and Claudia Nerlich in South Africa.