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UBP in the press 03.12.2018

It’s all in the family for Union Bancaire Privée's de Picciotto

It’s all in the family for Union Bancaire Privée's de Picciotto

The Straits Times (25.11.2018) - As times change, CEO’s ambition is to make UBP one of the biggest family-owned banks.


Mr Guy de Picciotto is enjoying Singapore’s warm climes after the chill of Europe. And it isn’t just the weather he is talking about.

The continent is «a bit boring - too many problems, too many issues», says the chief executive officer of Union Bancaire Privée, one of Switzerland’s top private banks. «When I come here it is much more positive, more movement, refreshing... Europe seems unable to get away from its demons.»

In the last six years, as he steadily built up the bank after the setbacks of the global financial crisis, Mr de Picciotto has put the family cheque book to work, including in Asia.

The Swiss arm of ABN Amro was acquired in 2011, the international private banking business of Lloyds Banking Group came two years later. In 2016, he bought the overseas arms of Coutts from the Royal Bank of Scotland, adding 250 staff in Singapore and Hong Kong that instantly advanced his Asian footprint by leaps.

«I would not be here (in Singapore) if it were not for Coutts,»

he told me recently. «You have to believe me.»

Coutts, of course, has been banker to the Queen of England for ages, but Mr de Picciotto hastens to clarify that since he bought only the global business, the Queen is not a customer. It is a fact that he does not seem to mind overmuch.

«I am not sure she pays fees,» he adds, revealing the droll side of what I had prepared for would be the quintessential poker-faced Geneva banker.

Times are changing in the world that Mr de Picciotto inherited from his father, Edgar, who started UBP in 1969 after arriving 15 years earlier as an emigre to Switzerland via Lisbon, Aleppo and Beirut.

The days of banking secrecy, for which the country’s financial industry got much of its reputation, are long gone.

The United States, where much private wealth is located, has become an unwelcome place for Swiss bankers who find its intrusive regulators too much of a nuisance.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, taxmen in India, another massive source of high-net-worth clients, have also been keeping a weather eye on citizens with Swiss accounts.

Banks like his therefore not only have to cast their net wider, but also have to compete not as secure places to stash secret wealth but on the results delivered to clients through innovative products, quality information, and sustained client hand-holding - relationships that are often nurtured over generations.

Rather than being affected badly, he says, Swiss banks have adapted well to the circumstances. Switzerland is still the No. 1 place for wealth management.

«The aura of banking secrecy which gave private banks this cloud of mystery has lifted,» he says.

«We don’t have secrecy as a competitive advantage, so we have had to cope with being more transparent and active - the withdrawal of secrecy has allowed us to be more proactive.»

The regulatory scrutiny has strengthened as well. While such changes in the environment bring short-term pain, they have given the banking industry more roots and consistency, he believes.

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