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UBS eyes US and China expansion

Kelleher spent 30 years at US bank Morgan Stanley before joining the UBS board in April 2022. Keystone/gaetan Bally

UBS chairman Colm Kelleher says Switzerland’s largest bank needs to expand its wealth management business in the US to compete with the big Wall Street banks.

“Wealthy Americans like to be with a bank like UBS,” Kelleher told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in an interview. “UBS has a phenomenal reputation in wealth management.” Kelleher was elected UBS chairman in April 2022 after some 30 years at US bank Morgan Stanley.

A key priority for the bank, said Kelleher, is boosting its wealth management business, specifically with ultra-high-net-worth clients, and institutional investors in the US.

“Unlike 25 years ago, it’s not about becoming American to beat the Americans. UBS is already an outstanding global wealth manager,” said Kelleher. “But we want to be the most significant wealth manager in the world. In the US as well.”

To achieve this, the bank is looking at more organic growth rather than large acquisitions, at least for the foreseeable future. He also said there’s no intention to buy Credit Suisse, which announced restructuring after being rocked by a series of scandals and huge losses.

A key focus for UBS will be offering customers more traditional banking products such as mortgages and loans. “Our strategic message is: no surprises, organic growth, judge UBS by the numbers, by the US business, by profitability,” he told the paper.

UBS has had an uphill battle to regain trust of investors following its high-risk expansion strategy in the US made it one of the most exposed foreign banks during the 2008 financial crisis. “We are aware of the mistakes of the past and will not repeat them,” said Kelleher. “We are growing in wealth management. This is a business with little risk and capital commitments.”

In addition to the US, UBS will also step up its activities in Asia as China loosens its zero Covid policy. UBS, as a global Swiss bank, will benefit from China’s growth, said Kelleher. “As a neutral player on the world stage, we don’t have to choose between China or America.”

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