The world’s best bank for wealth management 2021: UBS
The great financial innovator shone again in global wealth management.
UBS is the ultimate evolutionary force, a wealth management giant that spent the year rolling out a host of new services ranging from wealth advisory to philanthropy.
UBS again stands head and shoulders above the competition in this category. The Swiss wealth management giant entered 2020 in good shape and then used the Covid-related chaos that ensued to unveil new ideas and products – and to find new ways to communicate with customers.
Last year was a record-breaking one. UBS Global Wealth Management (GWM) delivered its best results since 2007, posting a pre-tax profit of $4 billion, up 18% year on year. It attracted $43 billion in net new money and disbursed $26 billion in net new loans.
This year also started well. In the first quarter of 2021, invested assets hit a record high of $3.1 trillion and the bank posted a pre-tax profit of $1.41 billion, up 16% over the previous year, driven by strong activity in Asia and the Americas.
But numbers alone do not do it justice. Under the leadership of co-president of GWM and president Americas Tom Naratil, and co-president of GWM and president Europe, Middle East and Africa Iqbal Khan, the bank thrives because it constantly evolves, finding new ways to serve institutions and individuals across the wealth spectrum.
The bank’s enduring success, both financially and in terms of this award, which UBS has won seven times over the past decade, stems from “continually placing clients at the centre of absolutely everything we do,” says Khan.
Most big financial institutions had a good pandemic, reacting swiftly and supporting customers. The same is true in private banking, as wealthy families turned to primary providers to navigate market uncertainty and tap higher returns.
But none outperformed quite like UBS. From the start of the Covid pandemic it positioned itself where it was needed. Live streams were a huge draw: 1,700 high and ultra-high net-worth clients tuned in weekly and UBS On-Air had an average active audience of 16,000 listeners. Its global chief investment officer, Mark Haefele, now has more than 431,000 followers on LinkedIn.
In the run-up to the US presidential elections, the bank reckons more than 21,000 active and prospective clients watched its ElectionWatch virtual events. After the election its analysts evaluated the future policy direction of a new administration.
“We have continued to differentiate UBS by improving our client offerings, making technology a differentiator and doubling down on our client promise,” says Khan.
Naratil adds: “As the world’s largest and leading global wealth manager, we are passionate about bringing the power of investing to families and individuals, and connecting people to help create a better world.”
Elsewhere, there was cause for quiet celebration, as the bank’s Chief Investment Office turned 10, having expanded from three employees in 2011 to more than 1,100 today. It is present in 18 locations, offering investment advice to over $3 trillion in actively managed global assets. The CIO team’s 150-plus analysts conducted over 6,000 client meetings during the awards period.
Part of UBS’s allure is its ability to think outside the box. It set up a group to support athletes and entertainers, helping them to manage resources and leave a legacy. A programme targeting younger investors was a big hit, with 20,000 people under the age of 40 and with more than $25 million to invest, signing up since its launch.
And, of course, all of this analysis did what it was meant to do: find ways to generate superior returns. For example, an actively managed certificate of 5G telecoms beneficiaries has returned 40% since its launch in September 2020 and the bank’s European greentech portfolio is up 17% since November.
Sustainability is increasingly at the heart of what the bank does. Last year it became the only major financial institution to make sustainable investing the preferred solution for global private clients. At the end of 2020 the Swiss institution managed $488 billion in core sustainable assets.
We have continued to differentiate UBS by improving our client offerings, making technology a differentiator
Another key initiative is UBS Evidence Lab. This internal super-connector hoovers up billions of bits of data from copious sources and more than 5,000 companies each month, giving clients analysis that can guide how they invest and find opportunities. The Lab tracked how different age groups reacted to lockdown easing and predicted where new Covid variants would likely emerge.
At a time when wealth management has never been more important, UBS never stops learning and evolving. Naratil says the key to success is a mix of the dedication of its teams, an internal culture of innovation and a “focus on ensuring our services are personalized, relevant, on-time and seamless”.
In 2020 UBS created a new Global Family Office, a division that acts as the ‘house bank’ for clients seeking complex solutions once reserved for institutions. A unified global markets team gives mid-market clients access to insights from product specialists, while UBS Wealth Way helps clients identify long-term investment goals.
Other financial institutions considered for this award included Citi, JPMorgan and Santander. But in the end, there was only one winner. UBS has set the bar high. It’s up to the competition to respond.