Berner Kantonalbank

Berner Kantonalbank, founded in 1834, occupies a prime piece of property for their head office-it's right across the street from Switzerland's parliament building in downtown Bern. Built in 1906, the grandiose-looking five-story building was originally built to house a casino.

Nice guy Hanspeter Merz, who heads investor relations, answers questions and gives me a tour of the place. Merz's business card is a bit out of the ordinary in that it sports a picture of himself. The lobby area of the main banking hall has several distractions: there's a kid's playground (similar to a McDonald's playland), a cyber-corner complete with Nintendo 64 and a café.

About 400 employees work here, smoking is allowed only in designated areas and it's a good idea to take advantage of the excellent public transportation system in Bern because there's zero parking for employees.
Switzerland is divided into cantons (similar to states in the USA). In 1958 Bern Katonalbank became the first canton bank to convert into an incorporated corporation under private law. The canton still owns 70% with investors the other 30%.

CEO P. Kappeler's middle office on the second floor affords him an excellent view of the Swiss parliament building directly across the street. I count three real plants and no computer. Here's something strange: I was telling Merz about my visit to Sarcar watch company in Geneva and how the owner had a French version of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address in a frame over the fireplace. Well, CEO Kappeler has a framed document dated 1860 with Abraham Lincoln's name on it. Kappeler isn't around and neither Merz nor I can decipher what it's about.

I'm a little embarrassed after seeing the boardroom. Why? Well, there was a serious meeting going on in the room and Merz just opened the door and announced to the roomful of people that I wanted a quick look around.

Any unusual employee perks? Once a year employees are allowed to buy a limited amount of shares at a special price.