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Opinion

Why did UBS choose Ralph Hamers for CEO?

Taking the top job at UBS is a great move for ING chief Ralph Hamers, but it’s less obvious for UBS.

UBS-Hamers-Weber-Reuters-780
Swiss bank UBS President Axel Weber and designated new CEO Ralph Hamers (R) are seen during a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland February 20, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann - RC2B4F9X3AQO
Arnd Wiegmann/REUTERS

Swiss bank UBS president Axel Weber and new CEO Ralph Hamers

Ralph Hamers, like many people at the top of ING, is a fantastic salesman. As chief executive, he’s been exceptionally good at talking up the Dutch bank’s digital advance – most of all on the retail side. Hamers started out in ING’s structured finance division but he’s spent most of his career managing the bank’s various country-level operations, which have mainly focused on retail banking.

Now he’s becoming chief executive of UBS, one of the banks in Europe where mass-market digital prowess is arguably less important, given the size of its wealth management business and investment bank, which rely more on tailored products and in-person relationships.

The digitalization of retail banking is important for UBS, but only in its home market of Switzerland, which is nowhere near as dominant for UBS as the retail business is for ING. Hamers has experience of ING’s unusually international retail franchise, so he’s not just a Dutch banker. If UBS thinks its Swiss business is a pressing problem it must tackle, someone more familiar with the idiosyncratic Swiss environment might have been a more obvious choice.

This raises the question of what UBS wants to be in the longer term – does hiring Hamers suggest it wants to play a bigger role in the future not just of wealth management but also of European banking?

A European bank

Although Switzerland is not in the European Union, the extent to which UBS sees itself as a European bank is evident in the past career of the CEO that Hamers replaces.


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