U.S. Markets open in 2 hrs 40 mins

Swiss bank Vontobel exits brokerage business to focus on investment management

By John Miller
Logo of Swiss private bank Vontobel is seen in Zurich

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss private bank Vontobel is exiting its brokerage business, it said on Monday, a move that includes selling its equity unit to Zuercher Kantonalbank (ZKB) as it focuses on buy-side investment management for wealthy clients.

The changes will affect about two dozen jobs and include the departure of long-time investment banking head Roger Studer from his operational role.

ZKB plans to acquire Vontobel's equity brokerage activities, with six employees of Bank Vontobel Europe AG in London, in a deal due to be completed in late 2020. Vontobel did not give financial details of the changes, or provide specifics about how the other brokerage employees would be affected.

Chief Executive Zeno Staub said the changes would leave the bank advising ultra-high net worth clients on their investments and completing equity capital markets (ECM) or debt capital markets (DCM) transactions via partners, rather than doing them in-house.

"We don't want to be the investment bank or the custodian for these ultra-high net worth individuals, we want to exclusively and always sit on the same side of the table as our clients," Staub said on a call with analysts.

"We will offer all our advice, all our experience around ECM and DCM transactions or possibilities but we will not execute them ourselves."

With Studer's departure, Vontobel said that general counsel Enrico Friz will become a member of Vontobel's executive board and Markus Pfister will take over the management of the structured products unit from 2020.

"Roger Studer has taken the realignment of Vontobel as an opportunity to relinquish his operational responsibilities in order to assume a non-operational role," the bank said in a statement.

Asset Management, headed by Axel Schwarzer, will continue to focus on institutional clients such as pension funds, insurance companies and sovereign wealth funds, as well as third-party banks in the wholesale fund business, Vontobel said.

The bank also said its results for the first 11 months of 2019 were better than a year ago, and Staub confirmed Vontobel's 2020 targets of achieving a cost/income ratio of less than 72% and a return on equity of more than 14% by 2020.

Advised client assets rose to 225 billion Swiss francs ($226 billion) at the end of November, Vontobel said, from 217 billion at the end of September. ($1 = 0.9972 Swiss francs)


(Additional reporting by Oliver Hirt and Michael Shields; editing by Thomas Seythal and Susan Fenton)