UBS to cut hundreds of wealth jobs in Asia as activity slows

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UBS Group is cutting hundreds of wealth jobs in Asia just months after completing its takeover of rival Credit Suisse as the bank responds to muted client activity and China’s slowing economy.

Switzerland’s largest bank reduced some overlapping roles in the past months and further cuts are expected through November, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified as the plans are private.

The lender is set to eliminate a few hundred roles that include relationship managers in Hong Kong and Singapore, the majority within teams newly acquired from Credit Suisse, the people said. The number of cuts has not been finalised, they said. The lender plans to keep the majority of private bankers in Australia and India for now, one of the people said.

UBS is battling muted client sentiment and activity levels in Asia-Pacific, where the regional business hub of Hong Kong has long been a booking centre along with Singapore for China’s ultra-wealthy. The wealth management unit’s profit before tax in the region fell by 9 per cent in the second quarter from a year earlier. 

The world’s second-largest economy expanded 3 per cent last year, one of its slowest rates of growth in decades as pandemic controls and a property crisis battered the country. Its eventual reopening provided hope China would bounce back this year, but that recovery has lost ground and the benchmark stock index is on track for a third straight year of losses. 

A UBS spokesperson declined to comment.

Since closing the takeover of Credit Suisse in June, UBS has outlined major targets for the integration of its former rival including 3,000 domestic job cuts and more than US$10 billion (S$13.6 billion) in cost savings. That’s likely to be a fraction of the roles to disappear globally.

The reductions come as other banks such as Barclays and Goldman Sachs Group also trim headcount. Barclays plans to dismiss about 5 per cent of client-facing staff in the trading division as well as some dealmakers globally as part of the cuts, Bloomberg News has reported. 

UBS, based in Zurich, completed its 3 billion franc (S$4.6 billion) purchase of the smaller Swiss firm following an emergency government-brokered deal earlier this year. In the months that followed, global wealth boss Iqbal Khan hosted celebratory events in Hong Kong and Singapore to rally his enlarged crew to gather more fee-generating assets.

Asia had been earmarked as one of the regions to be spared deep cuts in a bet on the region’s lucrative clients, Bloomberg previously reported. UBS had about 850 private bankers in the region at year-end, while Credit Suisse had 580, according to data from Asian Private Banker.

Still, a steady trickle of exits has included even senior bankers who recently joined. Mr Gautam Anand, a managing director in Singapore hired from Credit Suisse last year, is no longer with UBS as of end-August, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s registry. He started at UBS in January as part of efforts to bolster services for India’s wealthy diaspora. Mr Anand did not comment when contacted by text message.

In Hong Kong, bankers including Credit Suisse’s Mr Martin Loh, a market group head for China and Mr Joe Lau also left in the past few months. BLOOMBERG