Switzerland: Vers Une Concrétisation Du Devoir D'information De La Banque?

Last Updated: 30 June 2016
Article by Aurélie Conrad Hari

Most Read Contributor in Switzerland, September 2017

Dans un arrêt 4A_369/2015 du 25 avril 2016, le Tribunal fédéral (TF) examine la portée du devoir d'information de la banque dans le cadre d'une relation de conseil en placement. Si le TF confirme sa jurisprudence désormais bien établie en la matière (notamment ATF 133 III 97 = JdT 2008 I 84), il atteste également de l'importance que revêtent les informations concrètes dont dispose la banque dans l'appréciation de l'étendue de ce devoir.

Cette affaire s'inscrit dans le cadre d'une demande en paiement initiée à Genève par une cliente A. Ltd contre sa banque dépositaire à la suite d'une perte subie en lien avec un investissement dans un fonds créé par la gérante externe C. SA sise à Genève.

A la fin des années 1990, la banque avait agi comme dépositaire de deux fonds étrangers successivement constitués par C. SA et qui avaient été liquidés (notamment en raison de leurs faibles performances et suite à une demande de transformation exigée par la CFB s'agissant du premier fonds). Lors de la création d'un troisième fonds (F3) en 2000 par C.SA, la banque a refusé d'en être la dépositaire, ses collaborateurs n'étant pas parvenus à comprendre le fonctionnement du montage sophistiqué mis en place par C. SA, le produit ayant été qualifié de nébuleux et obscur.

En 2001, la cliente A. Ltd est entrée en contact avec les administrateurs de la gérante externe s'intéressant à investir dans F3. Elle a requis des administrateurs qu'ils fassent établir une lettre de recommandation de la banque portant sur eux-mêmes et sur leur société. La banque a établi ce document et plusieurs de ses collaborateurs ont ensuite assisté, à la demande de la cliente, à une réunion entre la cliente et la gérante externe sur la présentation de F3. Lors de cette réunion, le représentant de la banque responsable des gérants externes a indiqué à la cliente que (i) la banque n'était pas impliquée dans la gestion de F3 qui était sous la seule responsabilité de la gérante externe et (ii) la cliente pouvait perdre 100% de son investissement. En revanche, il n'a pas mentionné que l'un des fonds précédent de la gérante externe avait subi des pertes ni que la banque avait refusé d'être dépositaire de F3.

A la suite de cette réunion, la cliente a ouvert une relation de dépôt avec la banque et confié un mandat de gestion discrétionnaire à la gérante externe. Près de CHF 20 millions ont été investis par la cliente dans F3, en partie au moyen d'un crédit lombard accordé par la banque. La cliente a actionné la banque en responsabilité après que cet investissement s'est soldé par une perte et que les administrateurs de la gérante externe ont été condamnés pour escroquerie en lien avec F3.

La question ouverte devant le TF consistait à déterminer si la banque disposait effectivement d'informations qu'elle aurait dû transmettre à la cliente. Tout en renvoyant la cause à la Cour cantonale pour qu'elle indique si elle avait une raison d'écarter les déclarations ayant fait état des doutes de la banque quant à la gestion opérée par C. SA et motive son appréciation des preuves, le TF a posé une solution claire. Il a ainsi retenu que, si les déclarations précitées devaient être prises en compte, la banque devait alors mettre en garde la cliente compte tenu des doutes qu'elle avait elle-même éprouvés en lien avec F3 et qui l'avaient conduite à refuser le rôle de dépositaire. Selon le TF – et contrairement à la Cour de justice genevoise qui a exclu toute violation par la banque de son devoir d'information – la banque aurait dès lors dû révéler à la cliente notamment qu'elle ne comprenait rien au montage du fonds, qui lui apparaissait dès lors risqué.

Le TF relève encore que le seul fait que des collaborateurs de la banque aient constaté un manque de diversification dans la gestion pratiquée par la gérante externe était également de nature à faire naître un devoir d'information de la banque.

Cet arrêt ne révolutionne pas les principes relatifs à l'obligation d'information de la banque dans une relation de conseil. L'application faite in casu par le TF appelle toutefois à la prudence puisqu'elle démontre que (i) les connaissances effectives dont dispose la banque et (ii) son rôle dans la relation avec un potentiel client, même execution only, sont de nature à étendre significativement son devoir d'information.

L'admission de l'existence d'un rapport de confiance accru dans le cas d'espèce nous paraît difficilement critiquable au vu de la lettre émise par la banque et de sa participation à une réunion d'information en faveur de la cliente sur le produit envisagé – nonobstant l'absence de relation durable préexistante entre la cliente et la banque qui ne sont entrées en relation contractuelle qu'après ces événements.

Toutefois, en retenant que les mises en garde de la banque sur le risque de perte de l'intégralité de l'investissement n'étaient pas suffisantes dans la mesure où celles-ci ne constituaient que des affirmations générales ne permettant pas de mesurer le degré concret de risque concernant le fonds (consid. 5.1.2), le TF ouvre une brèche susceptible d'étendre les obligations de la banque. La solution esquissée dans cet arrêt semble inviter la banque à une transparence totale vis-à-vis du client. Or l'exigence de communication inhérente à des doutes, en l'absence de faits avérés (et a fortiori lorsque le produit est par ailleurs autorisé et soumis à surveillance), place la banque dans une situation délicate. Cette exigence pose également des problèmes pratiques évidents non seulement eu égard au risque de préjudice pour les tiers, mais également quant à la détermination du seuil déclenchant une telle obligation d'information.

Aussi, l'exigence de transmission d'informations concrètes liées aux doutes de la banque ne saurait, à notre sens, être admise que de manière restrictive, en présence de circonstances particulières et avérées présentant un risque et exige une appréciation au cas par cas.

Previously published by the Centre de droit bancaire et financier

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