Banking on managing wealth pays off for UBS

Banking on managing wealth pays off for UBS

IF ONE was going to be offered the top job at Switzerland's largest bank with the Herculean task of cleaning up massive losses, a room on the 50th floor of One Raffles Quay offering a majestic view would be the perfect backdrop for such an occasion.

For it was right here, in September 2011, after a board meeting, that the then-chairman of UBS Kaspar Villiger broke the news to Mr Sergio Ermotti of his appointment as interim group chief executive of UBS.

Two months later, Mr Ermotti's appointment would become permanent, sealing a huge career leap for the 53-year-old from Switzerland's Italian-speaking Ticino region, who joined the world's second-largest private bank only in April that year.

"I was seated right there when I was offered the job," he gestured in the same suite, which offers a breathtaking view of Marina Bay and the busy South China Sea, during his interview with The Straits Times. "So far, I'm having fun," said Mr Ermotti.

Restoring faith in a 150-year institution reeling from one of the largest losses in European banking history during the sub-prime mortgage malaise could not have been a walk in the park. UBS counts the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation as its single largest shareholder.

Following a radical overhaul of the group's businesses, where nearly 2,000 staff were laid off - part of a plan to cut up to 10,000 staff - mostly from the high-risk investment banking business, the results have been encouraging for the Swiss lender.

The Zurich-based bank's first- quarter results for the period ended March surpassed estimates - net profit rose to 988 million Swiss francs (S$1.3 billion) from a loss of 1.9 billion francs in the previous quarter.

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