Private banking

UBS looks to appoint an Asian to board of directors as it eyes expansion in the region

The Swiss lender is aiming to diversify its board with more women, Asians and younger people; expansion plans include doubling headcount in China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 11:14pm

UBS, one of the largest wealth managers worldwide, is looking into recruiting an Asian to its board of directors, chairman Axel Weber said as he detailed the Swiss lender’s expansion plans in the region, which include doubling the headcount in China.

Former Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief executive Joseph Yam Chi-kwong served as a director for UBS from 2011 but resigned earlier this year when he joined the cabinet of Hong Kong’s new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

We would also like to appoint people with diverse backgrounds, in particular people from all age groups. Being 60 years of age isn’t a requirement
Axel Weber, chairman, UBS

“We are looking into recruiting in the Asian Pacific region because it is a very important market for us. We need to be well connected to markets and key decision makers in Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China,” Weber told a group of Asian journalists at the bank’s headquarter in Zurich.

“A diversified board is important. We want people of different ages, genders and professional backgrounds to join the board. A third of our board members are female, but I would like to see this share go up to 50 per cent to reflect civil society.

“We would also like to appoint people with diverse backgrounds, including technology and in particular people from all age groups. Being 60 years of age isn’t a requirement,” he quipped.

The bank’s 11-member board of directors has four women and has had no Asian representative since Yam left. UBS has almost 60,000 employees worldwide, about 12 per cent of them in Asia. Around 36 per cent are in the bank’s home market, Switzerland, 35 per cent in the Americas and 17 per cent in the rest of Europe.

“We have hired more in Asia to reflect our business level in the region. We are very committed and take a long-term view in Asia. We employ around 2,300 people in Singapore, around 2,400 in Hong Kong and about 1,000 in China. We intend to double our headcount in China in the next few years,” he said.

Weber said the bank’s expansion plans in China would not be affected by S&P’s decision last week to downgrade China’s long-term sovereign credit rating by one notch to A+ from AA- because of risks from the country’s debt.

“In assessing China, we do our own analysis and we use our own network to get a full picture of the situation. I am in regular contact with many government officials and bankers in Beijing and Shanghai,” he said.

Weber is optimistic about the long-term economic growth prospects of China, driven by the expanding services sector, internationalisation of renminbi and investment in infrastructure, including the Belt and Road initiative, Beijing’s multinational strategy to build roads, railways and power plants to boost trade and economic growth.

He said UBS’s expansion in Asia will focus on wealth management, and will not include retail banking.

“We only do retail banking in Switzerland. For the rest of the world, we are active in wealth management, and have supporting investment-banking and asset-management businesses. We are not a competitor of domestic banks in retail banking in China, Singapore or India,” he said. “Instead we cooperate with them and offer our global investment solutions to them and their clients. This is our preferred approach for servicing retail clients outside our home market.”

The company plans to expand in Asia, seeing the growth potential in the region as one of the most promising worldwide.

“More than half of the world’s population is in Asia. China and India each have over 1 billion people, which provides huge growth opportunities for our business,” he said.

UBS is the largest bank in Switzerland with 20 per cent market share and about 2 million customers, said Weber. In China, the largest banks often have more than 200 million clients.

Pursuing opportunities both in Switzerland and in the Asia Pacific region, in particular China, is the best strategy for UBS, he said, which is why it is important for UBS to team up with local partners to cross-sell products to the huge customer base, he added.