City Focus: Zurich

Sophie Chapman
- Leadership - Feb 05, 2019

Switzerland’s largest city has more to offer than being a financial hub. The city of 400,000 people has been deemed the second-best financial centre in Europe in the Z/Yen Global Financial Centre’s Index. However, Zurich also hosts the world’s largest outdoor techno party and has enough public baths to rival Istanbul. The city was also the location to introduce the avant-garde Dada arts movement in 1916. The well-balanced location has both its professional and cultural sides, offering business potential and scenic views.

Business central

Known as the “gnomes of Zurich”, the city’s bankers dominate the population. “Nearly a quarter of Zurich's residents work at banks or investment firms,” CNN reported. The city holds its position as a financial powerhouse, which in turn makes it one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in. Zurich was ranked the third priciest city globally in Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey 2018. The city is also regularly considered a prime location for business, ranking in 13th position in AT Kearney’s 2018 Global Cities Outlook. This will explain why so many companies opt to locate their headquarters there.

Global 2000

Zurich Insurance Group was founded in the city in 1872 as Versicherungs-Verein, specialising in marine reinsurance. Since, the company has expanded its operations into three key businesses: General Insurance, Global Life, and Farmers. The group has changed its name from Versicherungs-Verein, which translates from German to Insurance Association, to Zurich Financial Services, to finally Zurich Insurance Group. The firm currently provides its services to over 210 countries across the world, and employs approximately 53,000 people. The company’s total revenue hit US$64bn, and its investment portfolio is worth $207bn. Zurich Insurance Group featured in Forbes’ Global 2000 list 2018, ranking in 110th position.

Zurich Insurance Group is not the only Global 2000 business registered in the city. Zurich is also home to ABB Group, Credit Suisse, Swiss Life Holding, and UBS. UBS, the investment bank, ranks highest in the 2018 list at number 163, followed by ABB Group, which places in 264th position, and then Swiss Life Holding and Credit Suisse, which sit in 469th and 482nd ranks respectively.

Startup hub

As well as being the home of some of the largest companies in Europe, the city also hosts several newer firms. With developing businesses launching their operations from Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich’s reputation as a startup hub is continuing to grow. One of the nation’s largest startups, Ava, has its headquarters located in the city’s third district, on Gutstrasse. The medical technology company focuses its operations on women’s health, designing a bracelet that tracks fertility cycles. Beekeeper, the employee-targeted app that aims to improve communication for those who work shifts, has also based its office in the city. The firm’s customers include Hilton, Domino’s, and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

Quality of life

The Economist ranked Zurich in its top 15 cities in the Global Liveability Index 2018, whilst Mercer considers the city to provide the second-best quality of life across the globe. The Economist based its index on five key aspects: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

Infrastructure expansion works are currently underway at the city’s airport; Zurich is aiming serve its growing tourism and commuter rate. Flughafen Zürich AG, the airport’s owner and operator, plans to upgrade the site’s northern area, including passenger zones, with improved retail and route facilities.


With culture around every corner, it is no surprise Zurich is subject to a rise in visitors. The city has been built around Lake Zurich, also known as Zurichsee, making for a scenic metropolis. The old town offers preserved Renaissance buildings, whilst museums display European modernist art – some of which originate from Zurich itself. Spiegelgasse, located on the east of the lake, was once the birthplace of the famous Dada art movement. The venue hosted the Cabaret Voltaire artistic and political nightclub, founded by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings. The building still offers a cabaret with a variety of programmes on offer.

Green and clean

Along with its culture, Zurich attracts visitors with its cleanliness and environmental consciousness. The city’s administration uses incentives to encourage its citizens be as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. “Environmentally friendly waste disposal and sustainable energy and water supplies are essential factors when it comes to competition with other international locations,” states the city of Zurich. Last year, Zurich placed in 25th position of cleanest cities in the world by Citi IO.

Zurich offers easy access to business for both established and upcoming companies. As the city of gnomes, the Zurich’s position as a finance hub is unquestionable. However, the city can also offer a cultured art scene, clean streets, and innovative startups.

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