Swiss bank UBP aims to build Asia presence

Private bank's March purchase of Coutts gives it 'a more normal size' in region: CEO

Mr Guy de Picciotto, CEO of UBP, was in Singapore earlier this month to touch base with clients and staff.
Mr Guy de Picciotto, CEO of UBP, was in Singapore earlier this month to touch base with clients and staff.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The move by Swiss private bank Union Bancaire Privee (UBP) to acquire Coutts International in March will help the bank establish a bigger presence in Asia, said chief executive Guy de Picciotto.

Mr de Picciotto admitted that UBP was "very late" getting into the region when it tried to build its private banking business here from scratch three years ago with a small team of 18 people managing a couple of billion dollars worth of assets.

But the March purchase from the Royal Bank of Scotland should allow the Geneva-based bank to build on Coutts' 20-year presence in Asia.

"With this acquisition, we finally have a more normal size here in Asia," said Mr de Picciotto, 55.

He added that the family-owned UBP, which had almost 100 billion Swiss francs (S$142.3 billion) under management as at the end of last year, has been growing through acquisitions as the Swiss private banking sector is undergoing consolidation and "prices are right".


We are here for the long run.When you talk to big corporations where people come and go, that continuity is not the same.

UBP CEO GUY DE PICCIOTTO, on the Swiss bank's presence in Asia

The Coutts acquisition will expand UBP's assets under management by around 30 per cent to 130 billion Swiss francs, with the bank estimating it could retain around 60 to 70 per cent of the existing client base.

Coutts is the bank's fourth purchase in five years, having snapped up the Swiss operations of foreign banks such as ABN Amro and Lloyds Banking Group.

Mr de Picciotto, the son of UBP's chairman and founder, made a rare trip to Hong Kong and Singapore earlier this month in a bid to touch base with clients and staff.

He told The Straits Times last week that being a family business has its advantages, especially when dealing with certain wealthy clients.

"It certainly gives us more intimacy and more trust," he added.

"We are here for the long run. When you talk to big corporations where people come and go, that continuity is not the same."

He noted that while many players are coming to Asia because the market is growing, it seems that some want to poach bankers from other banks in the hope of getting their clients.

The real constraints here could be in the number of bankers available to service the clients, rather than a lack of clients, he said.

He added that the staff serving high net worth clients need to be talented and experienced.

"You need to have gone through different crises. And in order to really manage the assets, not just to push products, you have to give the confidence that you have the exposure to the markets," Mr de Picciotto added.

While he acknowledged that he has not spent enough time in Asia to make a full assessment, he said that bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore are much more active and dynamic than their counterparts in Switzerland.

"People here are more ambitious. In Switzerland, the banking secrecy has been around for many years and this banking model has created a more comfortable environment for bankers there.

"Having relied on banking secrecy, Swiss bankers are certainly less aggressive in their commercial approach," Mr de Picciotto said.

With the business environment in Switzerland getting more difficult due to the automatic exchange of information, bankers have to start being more proactive, he said.

UBP might start an exchange programme whereby bankers in Switzerland will be sent to Asia for training and vice versa once the Coutts merger is completed early next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Swiss bank UBP aims to build Asia presence'. Print Edition | Subscribe