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Wealth management: How UBS battled back in the US

Two characteristics set UBS apart from other private banks, says Bob McCann, head of UBS Wealth Management Americas. “First, we are truly global. Other banks claim to be, but if you look at their revenue streams they are not balanced internationally, or they are pulling out of international businesses to focus domestically. And second, wealth management is a core business accounting for over 50% of UBS’s total revenues.

If you look at other financial institutions, wealth management is about 15% to 20% of revenues and a business line they have to be in rather than one of focus.”

The firm’s commitment to being global and remaining so was evident after the US tax-evasion scandal. McCann, who had been president of Merrill Lynch’s global wealth management business, was brought in to save the US franchise and given carte blanche to do whatever it required by UBS’s chief executive at the time, Oswald Grübel. It was a daunting task. Almost SFr16 billion ($17.2 billion) in client assets in the Americas had left in 2008, and SFr11.6 billion in 2009.

"When I joined UBS in 2009 we were still having problems from the financial crisis and the mortgage market collapse," says McCann. "The company was still at odds with the IRS in the US and was receiving a lot of negative media attention. There had been a breakdown between the managers and the financial advisers – probably due to the stress. Turnover of advisers was 18% in 2008. You cannot lose 18% of your FAs and hope to survive."

But he says he had the assurance from Grübel and the board that all issues with the IRS would be resolved and that the firm had a long-term commitment to the US.

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