Schweizer Verband der Raiffeisenbanken

With one bank you haven't much clout. Put 512 Swiss banks together and you've got yourself a presence. Schweizer Verband der Raiffeisenbanken is a cooperative banking group comprised of 512 Raifffeisen banks, each being an independent cooperative.

You don't find the head offices of this banking group in the financial centers of Zurich or Geneva but in St. Gallen, a city of 70,000 inhabitants in the northwest corner of Switzerland.

Headquarters stands near the edge of downtown St. Gallen. My letter of introduction sent a month earlier to CEO Marius Cottier turns out to be for naught as I learn from receptionist Emma Erni that he's no longer the CEO. Well jeez, their website is/was of no help with that kind of info since English isn't one of the languages.

Ms. Walvogel, an assistant to Chairman Pierin Vincenz, commanders Pius Schaerli to meet with me. Schaerli, Editor-in-Chief of Panorama, the company's in-house employee publication, answers questions while sitting in one of the two employee cafeterias.

Four modern buildings make up the headquarters complex with Chairman Vincenz hanging his hat in a six-story structure built in 1997. A total of 900 employees work in the buildings, if you drive to work you pay to park in the bank garage, smoking is allowed in offices and the company's art collection is international in scope. It's an hour to the nearest major airport (Zurich) and employee perks includes the usual special rates on banking services and insurance.

Chairman Vincenz's office contains one real plant, a picture of his two daughters, three tombstones, a stand-up desk and, an unusual piece of art on a wall-consisting of seven imprints of lips.