Following the revelation this week that UBS AG lost about $2 billion from unauthorized trading, the Swiss bank must move quickly to stem further effects to its businesses, including wealth management, experts said.
UBS publicly announced the news on Thursday, including the admission that it could lead the bank to report a loss for the third quarter. While criminal charges against the trader allegedly involved have proceeded, the bank has not made further public comments.
Inside the firm, UBS Wealth Management Americas Chief Executive Robert McCann moved to reassure advisors the wealth management business is strong, according to reports. UBS was not immediately available to comment on any new business strategy changes.
The news comes at a critical point for the firm’s U.S. wealth management business, as it strives for greater profitability following the financial crisis and has publicly fended off persistent rumors this year that it could sell that unit.
“It’s not directly related to wealth management,” said Alois Pirker, a research director at Boston-based financial services research firm Aite Group, of this week’s events. “But given the fact that the firm has a single brand and it has spent a lot of money to build up a single brand, this type of scenario is a burden.”
While as of Friday, UBS had not scheduled its third quarter earnings release and presentation, the contents of those results will be critical, experts said, including what firm executives say about this week’s events. It should also reveal how net flows were impacted by this week’s news, according to Pirker.
“It should have a pretty immediate impact, if it has one,” Pirker said.
The results could mean a stronger role for UBS’ wealth management business, said Rochdale Securities Bank Analyst Dick Bove. As the debate turns to where changes will take place in UBS including investment banking, the focus will likely be on reducing risk-weighted assets or trading positions.
“They definitely want to continue to increase their private banking business, their business in Switzerland and their wealth management business in the United States,” Bove said. “I think those are three core areas that they want to focus on, as opposed to cutting them off and getting rid of them.”
While UBS has said that the firm may report a loss for the third quarter, its results for this year and next year should be profitable, Bove said. The bank’s transition could have also inadvertently permitted the unauthorized trading to occur, he said, if investments in rigorous control systems diminished.
“When a company is shrinking itself back to a profitable position, a lot of things get slipped,” Bove said.
For financial advisors in the U.S., the news this week means that one more wirehouse has taken a hit to its brand as Bank of America Merrill Lynch still wrestles with its share of struggles. As with Merrill Lynch, it also remains to be seen how many of UBS’ advisors could defect from the firm following the news.
“I’m not sure in and of itself it’s a deal breaker,” said Mindy Diamond, president and chief executive of Chester, N.J.-based recruitment firm Diamond Consultants, who has seen a spike in business in the past month from Merrill Lynch brokers interested in moving. While those UBS advisors may not be determined to jump ship, Diamond said, they still worry about a possible sale of the U.S. wealth management business.
Financial services recruiter Rich Schwarzkopf, president of New York-based Schwarzkopf Recruiting Services, said that he heard from several UBS brokers on Friday who expressed interest in exploring other firms.
UBS’ news is another strike at the wirehouses, which have seen their forces shrink in recent years, he said. It also comes at an inconvenient time for UBS, which had stabilized and increased hiring.
“This is such a downer for them,” Schwarzkopf said. “I think they had recovered quite a bit of their reputation, but this throws a little dart in the board.”
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