BASEL, Switzerland – April 5, 2023: UBS Chairman Colm Kelleher addresses shareholders during the UBS annual general meeting in Basel, its first since the bank’s emergency rescue of Swiss rival Credit Suisse.
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UBS is holding its annual general meeting on Wednesday morning against a fraught political backdrop, following its takeover of fallen rival Credit Suisse last month.
The 1,128 shareholders gathered in Basel are seeking clarity on the board’s plan following the “shotgun wedding” between Switzerland’s two biggest banks, which remains mired in controversy, legal peril and public skepticism.
UBS Chairman Colm Kelleher told the audience that March 19, the date of the emergency rescue of Credit Suisse, was a “historic day and a day we hoped would never come.”
But he said the merger also presents “huge opportunities ahead for the combined bank and the Swiss financial sector as a whole.”
He emphasized UBS’ focus on its wealth management and Swiss business and confirmed that the bank would reduce the capital allocated to its investment arm to below 25% of risk-weighted assets.
“Whilst we did not initiate these discussions, we believe that this transaction is financially attractive to UBS shareholders,” Kelleher said, while acknowledging there is a “huge amount of risk” associated with the integration.
The Credit Suisse integration is expected to take around three to four years, excluding Credit Suisse’s non-core investment bank portfolio. Kelleher said the bank expects to remain well capitalized and “significantly above” its capital targets by the time the deal closes.
New CEO Sergio Ermotti takes the reins on Wednesday after his shock reappointment last week, as UBS takes on the mammoth task of integrating its fallen compatriot’s business.
Ermotti’s return was seen by many commentators as an attempt to restore calm, as the country’s long-established reputation for financial stability teeters on the brink.
UBS reported a full-year profit of $7.6 billion in 2022, and its shares remain up more than 10% since the turn of the year.
Concerns remain over the scale of the new entity, which will have more than $5 trillion in total invested assets, and whether it creates too much concentrated risk for the Swiss and global economy.
Reports have suggested that UBS’ plans may include job cuts of around 20-30% of the combined entity’s global workforce, but the bank’s Vice Chairman
Credit Suisse held the final independent AGM in its 167-year history in Zurich on Tuesday, after Swiss authorities brokered an “emergency rescue” in late March, when the bank’s share price tumbled and depositors fled en masse.
The board was angrily confronted on Tuesday by shareholders demanding answers and accountability over the 3 billion Swiss franc ($3.3 billion) deal, which was rushed through over the course of a weekend and denied both UBS and Credit Suisse shareholders a vote.
Credit Suisse Chairman Axel Lehmann said he was “truly sorry” to shareholders, clients and employees, and suggested the bank’s turnaround plan after years of losses, scandals and compliance failures had been on track until turmoil in the U.S. banking sector sparked a flight of confidence.
Peter V. Kunz, chair in Economic Law and Comparative Law at the University of Bern, told CNBC on Wednesday that the mood in Basel was “totally different” to that in Zurich on Tuesday.
“Yesterday, people were angry, they were frustrated. Basically, CS shareholders were the losers. Here, you see the winners,” he told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche outside the meeting.
“They are gleeful, they are happy, they see the prospects of the future, some might even be triumphant because there was some bad blood between these two banks. They were rivals,” Kunz added, though he acknowledged that some shareholders remain uncertain about the outlook for the combined entity.
The Swiss Federal Prosecutor is investigating the state-backed takeover for potential breaches of Swiss federal law by government officials, regulators and top executives.
Swiss regulator FINMA held a press conference on Wednesday setting out why the forced merger was the best possible outcome, and laying the blame squarely at the door of Credit Suisse management.