Adrian Kuenzi, you have been Head of Union Bancaire – UBP – in Zurich for over two and a half years. A period in which things have remained very quiet around the Geneva bank.
UBP is not a bank that seeks attention. We prefer to focus on working with clients. Because times are demanding. But over the years we have built a good business here in Zurich. The Coutts acquisition is now several years behind us and UBP Zurich has become a fairly significant and sustainable contributor to the whole group. We generate around a third of the group's wealth management operating income.
This is more than its share of assets under management...
Indeed, the Zurich branch manages around 25 billion Swiss francs, while the group as a whole manages almost 140 billion francs, with 40 billion in asset management. In recent years we have succeeded in attracting a considerable number of large families as clients, as well as a number of senior relationship managers. This has generated solid operating results.
Does this mean that the quality of client assets has improved?
Definitely. The average account size has now increased to around 5 million francs. Around twothirds of new money comes from existing clients, who appreciate and are increasingly using our investment services, expertise and solutions. We now want to apply this recipe in other locations.
Does this mean your role in UBP is changing?
Yes, I became one of UBP’s three wealth management heads at the beginning of September. This means that, in addition to UBP Zurich, I am also responsible for the Lugano, Luxembourg and London offices. Together, they represent more than 35 billion francs in client assets, or around one third of wealth management assets.
«Normal organizational changes»
We intend to help transfer the expertise we have built up in Zurich following the Coutts integration to those locations, who are at an earlier stage of development following a series of other acquisitions. Secondly, with this organization we also intend to intensify cooperation between our European and Swiss booking centers.
UBP has three wealth management heads: does this mean that Michel Longhini's position was not replaced following his departure last year?
That is correct. Wealth management is now under regional leadership: Asia under Michael Blake, developing markets and wealth management Geneva under Nadège Lesueur-Pène, and myself overseeing European markets. This gives our organization greater flexibility and allows us, as wealth management heads, to be closer to our clients.
As a result, you have taken over from René Mottas and joined UBP's top management.
Indeed, I took over most of René Mottas’ responsibilities and report to the group CEO. That was not made public. As I said, we are not looking for attention. These are normal organizational changes and we are making functional adjustments to be more efficient and closer to clients.
How big is the Lugano office?
We employ around 40 people there. Lugano is a very active branch; for example they are very successful in sourcing structured products for portfolios, and we get a lot of ideas in that area from our Lugano colleagues. In Zurich, asset management plays an important role from which the other locations benefit.
«Selectively strengthened our workforce»
Nicolas Faller, co-head of asset management, is based in Zurich, as are wealth management investment chief Norman Villamin and the emerging market debt team. Each location has its unique DNA.
Has the growth in assets under management gone hand in hand with the hiring of clientfacing teams?
We have selectively strengthened our workforce with relationship managers. Despite the fact that we have been relatively cautious on costs in the first half of 2020, this does not mean that we cannot and do not wish to invest selectively.
«We may see a revival in our M&A activities»
I personally believe that a good bank must also always be able to invest. Opportunities can arise, especially in more difficult times like these, whether it is to recruit more advisors or to bring new skills on board. Perhaps we will also see a revival in mergers and acquisitions activities. That is quite possible.
Where did you last invest?
As regards new competencies, we have invested in the expansion of our private markets capabilities, like private equity and private debt. We have also expanded the ESG and sustainability offering and launched impact funds, we have strengthened the hedge fund team with people from GAM, and we have significantly built up our discretionary portfolio management teams.
Is the Zurich office not bursting at the seams?
Not all these people are based in Zurich. But it’s true, we now employ over 200 people in Zurich, 100 of whom work here at Bahnhofstrasse 1 and 100 at Claridenstrasse, where we have rented office space.
Nonetheless, UBP put pressure on costs in the first half of the year. Other banks are reporting massive cost pressure. Shouldn't you step on the brakes?
Look, the prestigious clients and, in some cases, large families we have acquired in recent years came to UBP because they are demanding and are looking for our expertise and unique DNA. Such clients are not attracted by the best cost-saving program in wealth management, but by advisors and experts who are passionate about their areas and their convictions.
Are times of crisis times for specialists?
Definitely. The world has changed fundamentally in the last twelve months, entire industries are undergoing fundamental changes. As a wealth manager, it is simply no longer enough to offer a broadly diversified portfolio.
«Of course a challenge, but one I wanted»
The demands of clients have increased significantly in step with these changes as has appetite for innovative solutions. Risk management has become extremely important, and this includes being able to systematically offer asymmetric pay-off profiles, among other things.
UBP is a family-run bank. You were previously CEO of a cooperative subsidiary of Notenstein La Roche. Is the difference like night and day?
The jobs are indeed very different. What has remained the same is my demand of myself to do my best for clients and staff every day. But the environment at a large retail banking group like Raiffeisen and a large owner-managed private bank is very different. At UBP, the client structure is completely different, as is the decision-making process. We serve different markets and I can count on a pool of very experienced senior bankers and asset management teams here. That is of course a challenge for me, but it was a switch I wanted.
The raison d'être in Swiss private banking is growth, growth, growth. But the client's view is often different: growth also means more risk. How do you deal with this at UBP?
I observe that clients want to be with a bank that is profitable and solid. That includes growth. When a bank stops growing and is barely profitable, clients become nervous. At UBP, growth is also important, but our ultimate goal is sustainability and to build long-term relationships. We also pay attention to maintaining the right incentives and a robust risk management environment.
Are acquisitions also appreciated by existing clients?
UBP has a history of successful acquisitions, such as the Swiss businesses of Lloyds and ABN Amro and of course Coutts. I strongly believe that in addition to organic growth, making acquisitions is also important for a bank. After all, it gives a company new impetus virtually overnight.
«Acquisitions have onboarded expertise and mindset»
Acquisitions often bring an element of positive disruption. We can see this now, for example in London, where within two years we have acquired ACPI and the wealth management business of Jefferies, and in Luxembourg, where we took over Banque Carnegie. Thanks to these acquisitions we’ve onboarded new expertise and new mindsets.
Is the coronavirus crisis triggering a new wave of consolidation on the Swiss market?
Not in the near future. A lot has already happened in Switzerland in this respect. However, opportunities might arise, which UBP would certainly look into.
Swiss banks have been pushing business in less developed markets, such as Latin America, for lack of other growth opportunities. This has entailed significantly higher risks, as evidenced by numerous suspected money laundering cases. How does UBP deal with high-risk clients?
With deliberate caution. In my experience, a private bank needs a critical mass and deep enough expertise in each market in order to manage such risks. But size is not enough. You also have to have relationship managers with the right mindset who, with a cautious attitude, assess and carefully review potential risks. Another important factor is that client-facing staff maintain a continuous and active dialogue with Compliance. Surprisingly, this is often the missing link.
One more outlook: Many Swiss private banks are using digital technology to differentiate their business models, seek new customer segments or establish a digital bank. What is UBP doing?
Digitization is of course a dominant theme at UBP. But for us its main purpose is to fundamentally improve our offering and services for existing clients. But we remain true to our business model and our client segments in wealth management and asset management. As our CEO keeps saying : «You cannot digitize trust.»
Head of WM European Markets