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UBS sees some exits from wealth units in Singapore and Hong Kong as it steps up cost cutting

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UBS is seeing some departures from its wealth management units in Singapore and Hong Kong as the Swiss bank steps up its cost-cutting programme.

UBS is seeing some departures from its wealth management units in Singapore and Hong Kong as the Swiss bank steps up its cost-cutting programme.

The number of exits is not significant, and is part of an ongoing normal business review, said a source.

The most high profile of the departures is Singapore-based Joseph Poon who was UBS head of ultra high net worth for South-east Asia. Prior to joining UBS about four years ago, Mr Poon used to be the head of Macquarie Private Wealth Asia.

The Business Times understands that UBS will not replace the position vacated by Mr Poon.

Earlier this year, UBS announced several senior hires including Tracy Woon, vice-chairman, UBS Wealth Management Asia; and August Hatecke, head of UBS Wealth Management South-east Asia.

UBS, the world's largest wealth manager, had been cutting costs in its investment bank and focusing on wealth management following the global financial crisis.

But with markets constantly in flux, and clients in risk aversion mode resulting in lower revenues, the banking giant has had to expand its cost savings to the wealth management business.

Early this month, after the group posted Q1 results which saw net profit slumping 64 per cent, UBS told staff that it was looking to cut costs in wealth management, which posted adjusted first-quarter pre-tax profit of 636 million Swiss francs (S$890 million), down from 856 million Swiss francs a year ago, reported Reuters.

"We believe the outlook remains challenging," Juerg Zeltner, who heads wealth management, told staff in a memo seen by Reuters and confirmed by the bank.

UBS also said that it had made 1.2 billion Swiss francs in cost savings by March 2016 since 2013, leaving it on track to achieve its targeted savings of 2.1 billion Swiss francs by the end of 2017.

The Asia-Pacific region continues to outperform for the group. In the first quarter of 2016, UBS Wealth Management Asia-Pacific had total invested assets of 266 billion Swiss francs, with 8.8 billion Swiss francs in net new money (NNM), accounting for 30 per cent of the NNM global total of 29 billion Swiss francs - the highest quarterly inflow since 2008.

It is also the largest wealth manager in the Asia-Pacific, with 272 billion Swiss francs under management as at Dec 31, 2015.

It opened a branch in Shanghai in March, the bank's second ground-floor presence in China and, last month, an office in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

The Kowloon office is UBS's first outside the Central Business District and already has 50 employees; a number that it expects to double by the end of the year.

UBS has more than 2,800 employees in its Wealth Management Asia-Pacific unit, making it the largest team of any wealth management firm in the region, including about 1,000 plus each in Singapore and Hong Kong. The group has about 7,700 employees in over 13 markets (across the three businesses of investment bank, wealth management and asset management) in the Asia-Pacific.