Power struggle costs Ralph Hamers his head at UBS

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Power struggle costs Ralph Hamers his head at UBS

After barely two years, Ralph Hamers has to leave again as CEO of the Swiss bank UBS Group. Special, because Hamers has only just had to save the other Swiss bank Credit Suisse from collapse with a takeover. BNR’s house economist Han de Jong therefore finds the timing of his departure very striking.

De Jong finds Hamers’ departure remarkable. Or at least the timing of it. “If they wanted to get rid of him, they already did that a week and a half ago (before the takeover of Credit Suisse, ed.”), the former chief economist of ABN Amro wonders. “What has changed since then?”

According to FD journalist Gerben van der Marel, Hamer’s departure was already imminent. For example, he points to the fact that not Hamers, but President of the Supervisory Board Colm Kelleher was in control during the takeover of Credit Suisse. ‘In Zurich I spoke to all sorts of bankers. It was already said there: ‘Hammers is toast’. I couldn’t prove that at the time, but it was clear that he wasn’t comfortable on the bench.’

‘Hamers has a different profile than UBS needs’, according to Van der Marel. In Switzerland, Hamers would have been found to be ‘too soft’, says the FD journalist. ‘There is a call for a strong leader, very cliché, but it is over with Hamers faster than expected.

“Maybe they thought at UBS: Hamers has a spot after all”

Han de Jong, house economist BNR

Han de Jong also points to a legal dispute in which Hamers is involved. ‘Maybe they thought at UBS: Hamers has a spot after all.’ A criminal case is hanging over Hamers in the Netherlands, after he reached a settlement of hundreds of millions of euros with the Public Prosecution Service in his time as ING CEO due to negligence in the money laundering check by the bank. ‘It’s been going on for a while. Maybe progress is being made on that matter now, but I’m speculating now.’

Hamers joined UBS in 2020. Not much later it became known that the Public Prosecution Service wants to prosecute Hamers itself for the money laundering scandal at ING. According to the Bloomberg news agency, the prosecution led to internal discussions at UBS, which itself indicated that it still has every confidence in the CEO.

Due to the recent acquisition of Credit Suisse by UBS, the bank may want to clean up. ‘This integration is extremely complex and sensitive. It is then not wise to have someone at the helm who has a stain and who has to appear in a Dutch courtroom,’ says De Jong.

Leave in the middle of a banking crisis

Stock market analyst Corné van Zeijl of Actiam also finds Hamers’ departure striking. We are in a banking crisis, or let’s hope in the aftermath of it. Replacing your CEO at that moment indicates that you are very confident in your case and that it will not affect confidence in the bank.’

According to UBS, the departure should be seen in the light of the bank’s ‘new priorities’. According to De Jong, this refers to the acquisition of Credit Suisse. ‘At ABN I experienced the merger with Fortis, which is a complicated process that takes a long time. In itself, Hamers could do that very well’, thinks De Jong, ‘but of course not if he is simultaneously working on his lawsuit in the Netherlands.’

Hamers is succeeded at UBS by Sergio Ermotti, who was in charge of the Swiss financial institution between 2011 and 2020. ‘You would hope that there would also be a suitable successor on the board of UBS.’

De Jong therefore finds the succession special. ‘I used to work in the banking sector, where a succession procedure came along several times a year. There you have to enter who can follow you in case you end up under a tram, for example. You would expect that to be the case at UBS as well.’ De Jong thinks it is ‘not obvious’ to let Hamers’ predecessor take control again. “It’s all quite remarkable.”

Swiss to lead Swiss takeover

A spokesman for Hamers says that the choice for Ermotti is logical. Because the takeover is ‘very Swiss’, it also makes sense that a Swiss, Ermotti, takes the lead. ‘What exactly plays a role always remains within the boardroom,’ says Van Zeijl. “But I do think those are some of the factors that come into play.”

However, Ermotti is not a lightweight, Van Zeijl acknowledges. ‘In the nine years he was in charge, he built the bank to what it is today, after the misery that UBS itself had. Hamers’ task was to make the bank more digital and to attract a broader base of customers, which has not been very successful either. Although he didn’t have the time for that either, because the past two years have been a special period to be CEO.’

Hamers’ task was to make the bank more digital and to attract a broader base of customers, which has not been very successful either. (ANP/EPA)

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