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UBS chairman weber says CEOs overhauling banks must be 'brutal'
[FRANKFURT] UBS Group AG Chairman Axel Weber said banks overhauling their business models shouldn't shy from taking difficult decisions in their quest to bolster capital levels and profitability.
"To get there you have to do one thing: conduct a brutal and open self analysis, because without it and without acknowledging your own weaknesses and strengths, you can't pursue such an overhaul," Mr Weber said on a panel at a conference in Frankfurt on Thursday.
The example of UBS, which opted to pull out of most its capital-intensive fixed income trading unit in 2012, is proof that investors applaud managers who dare to take radical steps, said Weber. Shares of the Swiss company have fared better this year than Europe's biggest investment banks Deutsche Bank AG, Barclays Plc and Credit Suisse Group AG, which are still contemplating which businesses to exit and to what extent they should shrink staff levels as they contend with a slump in demand and stricter regulation.
"What we did strategically at the bank - orient ourselves for the long term and focus on core competencies - paid off for shareholders in two ways: sustainable dividends and a much improved share price," Mr Weber said at the conference, which was organized by Euroforum. "UBS is one of the few banks to trade significantly above its book value. "
Mr Weber pointed to Societe Generale SA, whose Chief Executive Officer Frederic Oudea attended the conference, as an example of a bank that has adjusted its business model in a changing landscape.
"He too has a global bank which he is focusing on the needs of clients," Mr Weber said.
Societe Generale posted its highest profit in eight years in the second quarter as it announced additional cost cuts to offset rising regulatory expenses and increased investment in digital technology.
Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Credit Suisse have all changed their CEOs this year, with the new executives promising strategy adjustments.
"The important thing about a strategy is that it can't constantly be changing," said Mr Weber. "In times like this, when you can't do anything about revenues because of the low interest rate environment and clients are very risk averse and the market is correcting, you have to do something about your costs."
At the same time, he cautioned against pulling out of Asia to save on costs given the region's growth prospects. While banks will differ on what strategies they should pursue, CEOs need only recall the 2008 credit crunch to see why they should focus their businesses, said Weber.
"One of the big problems of the banks before the crisis and that loss of identity and their core business was that every bank wanted to do everything everywhere for everyone," he said. "They all looked almost identical, did the same business and fell into the same trap."