Gnomes of Zürich

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Gnomes of Zürich is a slang term for Swiss bankers.[1][2] Swiss bankers are popularly associated with extremely secretive policies, while gnomes in fairy tales live underground, in secret, counting their riches.[3][4] Zürich is the commercial center of Switzerland.


After World War II, British Labour party politicians were worried about speculation against the pound undermining the economic regime. Economic growth in the United Kingdom was low, only half that of Germany and France. The demand for pound sterling started to fall.[5][6]

Although Swiss bankers had been criticised in Britain since the 1950s, the term "gnome of Zürich" originated in a crisis meeting of the Labour politicians in November 1964.[7] The politicians blamed Swiss bankers for raising speculation against the pound.[8] During the meeting, politician George Brown criticised the Swiss bankers and said, "The gnomes of Zürich are at work again." The term "Gnomes of Zürich" was then used by many other politicians of the time.[5] Then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson vowed to resist the gnomes' sinister power.[9]

Paul Rossy, a top banker in Zürich at the time, stated, "In the world it is not the image, but the substance behind the image which counts." The phrase was adopted by the Americans as well.[5][10]


Soon after the catchphrase became famous, a few Swiss bankers started answering their phone as "Hello, gnome speaking."[5] An audacious Swiss banker moved to London in order to set up his business and named it "Gnome of Notting Hill".[5]

In recent decades, Zürich bankers have lost the foothold they had in the global economy due to the rise of London, New York, Dubai and Hong Kong as leading financial capitals.[5] The Zürich Money Museum displays the sculpture of a gnome. Jurg Conzett of the Zürich Money Museum says that nowadays, bankers see gnome as "almost" a noble title. Bankers currently based in London who are agitated by rising taxes, stricter regulation and public animosity towards investment banking are considering moving in large numbers to Zürich itself where banking is "the state religion."[5]

Other uses[edit]

The phrase is reflected in the traditions of the Zürich Grasshoppers Rugby Club, whose mascot is a gnome and which occasionally plays a third/casual team called "The Gnomes".

Gnomes of Zürich is also the name of a classic rock band from North East England, and a 1990's psychedelic rock band from Minneapolis.[11]

The Gnomes of Zürich are one of the playable Illuminati in Steve Jackson's card game of conspiracy, Illuminati. Their goal is to collect a specified amount of megabucks, the game's currency.[12]

The original version of the computer game Zork makes reference to an "epicene gnome of Zurich".

Valiant Comics' Archer & Armstrong features a group of literal gnomes referred to as the Gnomes of Zurich, one of many factions within The Sect formed to kill the titular immortal, Armstrong.


  1. ^ "Switzerland: The Gnomes of Zurich". TIME. March 12, 1965. Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Oxford University Press (March 2014). A Dictionary of Finance and Banking. OUP Oxford. pp. 210–. ISBN 978-0-19-966493-1. An unflattering term applied to Swiss bankers and financiers, alluding to their secrecy and speculative activity. 
  3. ^ Robert L. Kroon (27 February 2008). A Lifetime of News: Tales Of A Foreign Correspondent. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 153–. ISBN 978-1-4653-2202-9. At the time, Swiss bankers were seriously upset about the label “Gnomes of Zurich,” stuck on them by Britain's Labour ... We got along well and the great banker took his time to dispel “all those nonsensical fairy tales” about gnomes and such. 
  4. ^ Christopher Hope (2008). The Garden of Bad Dreams and Other Stories. Atlantic. ISBN 978-1-84354-772-3. In the metaphysics of midgetry, gnomes are bucolic, elderly, fairy-tale creatures, sometimes associated with riches: as, say, the gnomes of Zurich. Dwarfs are less reliable, discomforting; they evoke sympathy but it is mixed with fear. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Chris Bowlby (25 February 2010). "Why are Swiss bankers called gnomes?". BBC News Magazine. 
  6. ^ William Norris (17 May 2014). One from Seven Hundred: A Year in the Life of Parliament. Elsevier Science. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-1-4831-3712-4. ... The gnomes of Zurich, as international money speculators had been labelled by the Labour Party, were being given a hard fight. But for some ... 
  7. ^ Daniel Fasnacht (11 February 2009). Open Innovation in the Financial Services: Growing Through Openness, Flexibility and Customer Integration. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 76–. ISBN 978-3-540-88231-2. So, he snapped after a meeting “the gnomes of Zurich are at work again.” T.R. Fehrenbach published 2 years later his bestseller “The Gnomes of Zurich.”7 His book provided the first searching look behind the geranium-boxed barred windows ... 
  8. ^ New York Media, LLC (24 June 1968). New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. pp. 17–. You will recall that the phrase "the Gnomes of Zurich" came from George Brown, Deputy Prime Minister of Great Britain, in 1964. When the pound was under attack, Mr. Brown said it was "the Gnomes of ... 
  9. ^ Diccon Bewes (9 March 2012). Swiss Watching: Inside the Land of Milk and Money. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. pp. 108–. ISBN 978-1-85788-991-8. ... pocket was still worth twenty shillings, Harold Wilson damned them to be known for ever more as the gnomes of Zurich. ... where Gringotts Bank is run by goblins, the gnomes' uglier cousins, also traditionally cast as the bad guys in fairytales. 
  10. ^ Absalom Group (10 June 2014). The Law of Wishing: Beyond the Law of Attraction. pp. 4–. ISBN 978-1-312-26417-5. The saying 'Gnomes of Zurich' is not just a disparaging term for Swiss bankers. No, they are a real entity, they are genetically related to gnomes. You don't have to believe us, that is not important, but you can look it up, Paul Rossy, the top ... 
  11. ^ CMJ Network, Inc. (6 September 1999). CMJ New Music Report. CMJ Network, Inc. pp. 28–. Unfortunately, Courtney Love, who lived in Minneapolis at the time, got her hooks into Weiland, and it wasn't long before the two of them headed off ... Butch Vig's production turned the band's blunt-instrument thud into an assault weapon blast. ... Tad Hendrickson Year Released: 1989 For Fans Of: Big Black, Drunks With Guns, Killdozer Bio Facts: Breuer went on to form Janitor Joe and Gnomes of Zurich. 
  12. ^ John Kaufeld; Jeremy Smith (10 February 2006). Trading Card Games For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 207–. ISBN 978-0-470-04407-0. You can turn the tables on the whole conspiracy-theory realm when you take over the world in Illuminati: New World Order, ... For instance, the Illuminati sect called The Gnomes of Zurich loves corporations and banking, so they get a bonus for ...