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UBS completes Credit Suisse takeover to become wealth management behemoth

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UBS completes Credit Suisse takeover to become wealth management behemoth © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Buildings of Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse are seen on the Paradeplatz in Zurich, Switzerland, March 20, 2023. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

By Noele Illien

ZURICH (Reuters) -UBS completed its emergency takeover of embattled local rival Credit Suisse on Monday, forging a Swiss banking and wealth management giant with a $1.6 trillion balance sheet.

Marking the closing of the biggest banking deal since the 2008 financial crisis, UBS Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti and Chairman Colm Kelleher said despite challenges there were “many opportunities” for clients, staff, shareholders and Switzerland.

The combined group will oversee $5 trillion of assets, giving UBS a leading position in key markets it would otherwise have needed years to grow in size and reach. The merger also ends Credit Suisse’s 167-years of independence.

Having peaked at more than 82 Swiss francs in 2007, the price of Credit Suisse shares has been eroded by scandals and losses in recent years and closed at 0.82 francs on Monday.

UBS shares gained 0.8%, valuing the bank at about 64 billion Swiss francs ($70 billion).

The two banks now jointly employ about 120,000 worldwide, although UBS has already said it will be cutting jobs to reduce costs and take advantage of synergies.

UBS announced a string of management changes with the closing including at Credit Suisse AG, which is now a UBS subsidiary that will be run separately.

Of the more than 160 leaders being confirmed or appointed, just over a fifth are from Credit Suisse, a UBS spokesperson said.

Andre Helfenstein will remain as head of the Credit Suisse domestic business, which UBS has said it is considering all strategic options for.

CLOSING RUSH

UBS agreed on March 19 to buy Credit Suisse for a knockdown price of 3 billion Swiss francs and up to five billion francs in assumed losses in a rescue orchestrated by Swiss authorities with Switzerland’s second-largest bank on the edge of collapse.

On Friday, UBS finalised an agreement on the conditions of a 9 billion Swiss franc public backstop for losses from winding down parts of Credit Suisse’s business.

UBS sealed the takeover in less than three months, a tight timetable given its scale and complexity, in a race to provide greater certainty for both clients and employees.

The deal, however, exposed two myths – namely, that Switzerland is a steady, predictable investment destination and that banks’ problems would no longer hit taxpayers.

“It was supposed to be the end of too-big-to-fail and state-led bailout,” said Jean Dermine, professor of banking and finance at INSEAD, adding that the episode showed this central reform after the global financial crisis had not worked.

The rescue also showed that even big global banks are vulnerable to bouts of panic, said Arturo Bris, professor of finance and director of the IMD World Competitiveness Center. An outflow of deposits forced Credit Suisse to seek help.

Switzerland’s reputation as a “safe, predictable political environment where the private sector operates freely and without government intervention” had taken a hit, Bris added.

The disappearance of Credit Suisse’s investment bank, which UBS has said it will seek to cut back significantly, marks yet another retreat of a European lender from securities trading, a business now largely dominated by U.S. firms.

Since the global financial crisis, many banks have pared back their global ambitions in response to tougher regulations.

Swiss regulator FINMA, which came under fire for its handling of the situation, said one of the most pressing goals for the newly-merged bank was to quickly reduce the risk of the former Credit Suisse investment bank.

UBS is set to book a massive second-quarter profit after buying Credit Suisse for a fraction of its so-called fair value.

Ermotti has, however, warned the coming months will be “bumpy” as UBS gets on with absorbing Credit Suisse, a process it said will take three to five years.

Presenting the first snapshot of the new group’s finances last month, UBS underscored the high stakes involved, by flagging tens of billions of dollars of potential costs – and benefits, but also uncertainty surrounding those numbers.

NEXT CHALLENGE

Possibly the first challenge for Ermotti, brought back to UBS to steer the merger, will be a politically fraught decision about the future of Credit Suisse’s “crown jewel”.

Bringing its domestic business into the UBS fold and combining the two banks’ largely overlapping branch networks could produce significant savings, which Ermotti has indicated as a base scenario.

But he will need to weigh that against public pressure to keep Credit Suisse’s brand, identity and, critically, workforce.

Analysts say public concerns the new bank will be too big – with a balance sheet roughly double the size of the Swiss economy – means UBS might need to tread carefully to avoid being exposed to even tougher regulation and capital requirements.

They also warn that uncertainty inevitably caused by a takeover of such scale can leave UBS struggling to retain staff and customers and that it remained an open question whether the deal can deliver value for shareholders in the long run.

($1 = 0.9101 Swiss francs)

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