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Sports Swiss wealth managers face lean years

16:27  06 april  2020
16:27  06 april  2020 Source:   de.reuters.com

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Zurich (Reuters) - Swiss asset managers are going into what may be the biggest economic crisis in decades with thin pillows .

So far, business with rich private customers has weathered the effects of the coronavirus pandemic relatively lightly. Over the coming quarters, however, the industry will face billions of dollars in lost earnings. While experts expect losses from practically all providers, many smaller houses could face existential difficulties to such an extent that only fleeing into the arms of a stronger partner promises to be saved. "Anyone who is already fighting will be screened," predicts a banker.

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The assets under management at wealth management and private banking firms rose an average of 17 percent in 2017, according to Scorpio Partnership’ s 2018 Global Private Banking Benchmark report.

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The weakening of lucrative banking secrecy, stricter regulatory requirements and the fight against technology companies have increased the resilience of Swiss private banks in recent years. "The asset management banks are in worse shape than they were before the financial crisis," said Anna Zakrzewski of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) strategy consultant. Although the wealth of wealthy private customers at banks in Switzerland rose to $ 3.2 trillion, the industry's pre-tax profits almost halved in time - even before the corona virus infected it.

CLIENTS HAVE OTHER CARE

In mid-March, UBS and Credit Suisse had remarkably positive comments on the course of business in the first quarter. The massive swings on the stock exchanges led to a boom in securities trading, which flushed the institutes with plenty of money. But experts expect this trend to subside in the coming months. "Triggered by the pandemic, we are experiencing greater uncertainty among customers," said Vontobel CEO Zeno Staub at the general assembly. A representative from another private bank said that because advisors are currently unable to meet their clients in person, it is more difficult to encourage them to do business. "In addition, many of our customers are entrepreneurs and they have other concerns now."

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Wealth managers now must deal with a short- to mid-term profitability trap, which seriously Caught in a profitability trap Wealth management providers are facing significant challenges. Winning in wealth management 5. Figure 1. Average protability of Swiss wealth managers .

The most important earnings pillar for the institutes is fees, which are calculated as a fixed percentage of the assets under management. And with the stock market slump, they fell significantly. But that's not all: further losses are imminent because the US Federal Reserve has cut interest rates and customers are increasingly foregoing credit-financed purchases of securities. This business has been an important growth driver for Credit Suisse in recent years. Most recently, UBS jumped on this train.

This business model no longer works properly in the crisis. Despite what is expected to be a strong first quarter, Citibank analyst Andrew Coombs expects Julius Baer and EFG International, as well as the private banking divisions of UBS, Credit Suisse and Vontobel 2020, to see a drop in pre-tax profit by a fifth and only a slight recovery the following year. "We no longer believe that the medium-term goals of any of these banks can be achieved."

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Next 1 September, Swiss wealth manager Plurigestion, headquartered in Geneva, will rebrand as Pleion, InvestmentEurope can reveal. In Switzerland , Plurigestion also follows an external growth strategy through acquisitions or partnerships with other asset managers and hires of relationships

BANKS MAY APPLY TO BONUSES

Smaller companies could be even worse off. According to BCG, 43 percent of the institutions with less than CHF 10 billion in assets under management were already in the red in 2018. This percentage will increase, said Zakrzewski. On the one hand, companies would lose earnings, on the other hand, investments in further digitization would also be necessary. So far, the banks have still done a lot of physical paperwork. But this is no longer possible in the home office and the digital channel is now often the only way to be in contact with the customer at all. "The crisis will result in banks accelerating the digitization of customer contacts and backward processes," she says.

In order to dig up the money for such investments or even stay in the black, the banks are likely to go on a savings course. Credit Suisse CEO Thomas Gottstein has already indicated that the bonuses for 2020 could decrease, even if he justified this with solidarity towards coronavirus sufferers. But bonus cuts are unlikely, experts also expect job cuts. Ray Soudah, founder of the merger advisor Millenium Associates, believes that the banks may be reluctant to layoffs for the time being due to reputation considerations. The deep cuts would then follow next year.

For some institutes, this will hardly be enough to make profits again. Soudah and Zakrzewski predict that the crisis will accelerate industry consolidation and lead to a wave of takeovers. For the time being, the market is in a state of shock, Soudah said. This could change in six to twelve months. "But because there will be more sellers than buyers, prices will remain depressed," said Soudah.

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