People Moves

New UBS Chief Executive: What Will He Bring From ING?

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor, London, 21 February 2020

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CEO of ING since 2013, the new chief executive at Switzerland's top bank has been associated with big restructuring at a Dutch lender, with a strong focus on digital technology. UBS is a different animal in some ways. Ralph Hamers has big boots to fill when Sergio Ermotti departs later in 2019.

The new chief executive of UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, will take the helm of a firm very different from the Netherlands-listed ING Group which is a largely retail animal although, like the Swiss firm, a systemically important bank with a big footprint.

Ralph Hamers, 53, will become the new CEO from 1 November this year, taking over from Sergio Ermotti who, as announced yesterday, steps down towards the end of this year. There will be a few weeks when their time at UBS overlaps to smooth the transition.

One talking point now and in the next few months will be Hamers’ perceived success in making ING a digital banking leader – leading to questions over how he will run the Zurich-listed UBS.

On Hamers’ in-tray are some of the issues he is already familiar with: compliance challenges, digital technology and its use, tough competition and the need to win and retain new clients. Like ING, UBS has been through major changes since the 2008 financial crash, offloading certain businesses. For example, ING spun off its Asian private bank to OCBC, now known as Bank of Singapore.

Hamers had been the CEO of ING since 2013, restructuring its business. Modern technology has been a central theme. In the words of a McKinsey report in January 2017, in 2015 it “embarked on such a journey, shifting its traditional organisation to an `agile’ model inspired by companies such as Google, Netflix, and Spotify. Comprising about 350 nine-person `squads’ in 13 so-called tribes, the new approach at ING has already improved time to market, boosted employee engagement, and increased productivity.”

Asked what such experience would mean for UBS, Hamers told journalists that technology was not “in itself” a good thing but needed to be measured by how it could improve client service.
 
Hamers fielded questions alongside Ermotti and UBS chairman Axel Chairman after the CEO announcement was made to the Swiss stock market. 

Asked about the kind of transition UBS wanted, Weber said he and Ermotti were mainly focussed on passing the bank to “the next generation”. “It is not a hasty process but a well-thought out process”, Weber said. 

Netherlands, France
Hamers got a flavour of the task in hand when journalists asked Weber about money laundering failings that had come to light at ING in the past. (In September 2018 ING agreed to pay €775 million ($900 million) to settle the case. Hamers told reporters that at the time no individual at the bank was found to be responsible for the failures, or had personally benefited.)

Weber, responding, said that UBS had run a “very extensive due diligence process” and there was no reason for the bank not to go ahead with appointing Hamers.

Allegations stemming from France, meanwhile, remain a live issue for Ermotti in his remaining time at the bank. UBS has fiercely contested a French court’s verdict that it illegally solicited and laundered tax fraud proceeds. A court had assessed that UBS AG and UBS (France) SA should face penalties. UBS is appealing the case and court proceedings are expected to go ahead this year. 

Weber said the timing of yesterday’s announcement of a new CEO was not influenced by the French matter.

Asked about his future plans after leaving UBS, Ermotti declined to answer, simply saying: “I am very focused on my duties for the next eight months.”

Weber was asked about his own position and whether he will seek an extension to his chairmanship as a search for a successor starts next year. “My future is in the hands of shareholders,” he said.

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