Mar 22, 2023
UBS Bankers Woo HK Rich Next Door to Somber Credit Suisse Summit
(Bloomberg) -- For the twin giants of Swiss banking, it was a tale of two very different events in Hong Kong this week.
UBS Group AG hosted rich clients at its lounge at Art Basel in the sprawling Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, where a usually drab hall was transformed with festive booths serving Ruinart champagne and Macallan Highland whisky. Nearby, Credit Suisse Group AG’s annual investor event at the Conrad hotel was decidedly more somber, as bankers pondered their next career moves and clients offered condolences.
Several attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity likened the Credit Suisse event to a funeral, complete with white flowers — a symbol of death in Asia — on display in the lobby.
The simultaneous gatherings in the Asia financial hub this week offered a snapshot of the diverging paths for the former arch rivals that were hastily brought together last weekend as Swiss regulators sought to stop the bleeding at Credit Suisse by cajoling UBS to take it over.
Read more: UBS to Buy Credit Suisse in $3 Billion Deal to Fight Crisis
The historic combination is likely to be completed by the end of this year and bankers and clients at Credit Suisse’s aptly named “Embracing Reality” conference sensed the end is near for the 166-year-old firm that was beset by scandals. Staff cuts could reach into the tens of thousands as UBS looks to reduce costs, particularly at the investment-banking unit of its cross-town rival.
One managing director who worked at Credit Suisse for decades said the past week has been emotional and challenging, as he stepped out of the five-star Conrad Hong Kong during a lunch break. He wasn’t sure about his future plans.
Though Credit Suisse was able to draw a crowd of more than 2,000 attendees to its Asian Investment Conference, including institutional investors and hedge funds, there were several notable absences. Chairman Axel Lehmann and Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Koerner were missing from the three-day conference, a marquee event on the Hong Kong calendar for more than 25 years. Instead, the show was run by global head of equities Neil Hosie. British adventurer Bear Grylls, who knows a thing or two about survival, added some star power by speaking to investors after earlier filming a few Credit Suisse bankers at a camping retreat in a Hong Kong hiking area, the Financial Times reported.
Read more: Credit Suisse’s 9,000 Job Cuts Are Foretaste of UBS Takeover
Iqbal Khan, president of global wealth management at UBS and a former Credit Suisse executive, was scheduled to fly into Hong Kong, according to people familiar with the matter. Francesco De Ferrari, Credit Suisse’s wealth management CEO, is also in town and meeting clients, a bank spokeswoman confirmed.
“It has truly been our privilege to serve you – and I want to stress that we are fully focused on ensuring a smooth transition and seamless experience for all our valued clients,” said Benjamin Cavalli, Credit Suisse’s CEO for Hong Kong and head of wealth management Asia-Pacific, at the opening speech on Wednesday.
Read more: Credit Suisse Bankers Swarm Headhunters After UBS Rescue
The bank’s near-death experience became a default ice-breaker for conversations among clients and company executives over salad stations and freshly-carved grilled meats, according to people in attendance. Regardless of the crisis engulfing the bank, the networking opportunities remained.
One client in attendance said he was impressed with how professional the staff were, given the circumstances.
Meanwhile, over at the convention center two kilometers (1.2 miles) away, UBS hosted clients at its lounge, where collectors attending the nearby Art Basel Hong Kong show mixed with investors discussing what to buy and which hot parties to attend.
Jokes were bandied around about re-branding the new entity “CUBS,” or adding a fourth key to the iconic UBS logo, taken from the predecessor Swiss Bank Corp. that symbolizes confidence, security and discretion. One UBS employee said it had been a crazy week and was relieved to be the acquirer and not the acquired.
A representative for UBS declined to comment.
--With assistance from Chanyaporn Chanjaroen, Lulu Yilun Chen, Krystal Chia and Vinicy Chan.
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