UBS chief Ralph Hamers signals global digital wealth push

Ralph Hamers, chief executive of UBS, said the Swiss bank will roll out a new digital wealth management service across the world, starting in the US as early as next year, in a bid to capture more affluent customers.

UBS has focused over the past decade on becoming the world’s biggest wealth manager for ultra-rich clients, but a tech-driven push under the Dutch chief executive will target mass affluent customers — those with between $100,000 and $1m of investable assets.

Speaking at the Financial Times’ Global Banking Summit on Thursday, Hamers said many of these customers wanted a combination of digital and personal advice offered remotely, a service the Swiss bank already plans to introduce in the US.

“It is clear that we should cater for the entrepreneurs, but we should also cater for that segment of the market that may not be completely digitally engaged, but also doesn’t want to have 100 per cent client-adviser coverage, but something in the middle,” he said.

“That’s exactly the sweet spot that we want to go after in terms of planting some further growth opportunities.”

Asked if the previously announced US digital service would be extended globally, Hamers replied: “Exactly.”

Hamers, who took over as UBS chief executive just over a year ago, will unveil his vision for the group in a strategic update in February.

One of the main planks of his strategy will be a digital wealth manager for mass affluent customers in the US. The launch will draw UBS into direct competition with the likes of Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase. UBS already has about 2m US customers in that segment.

The lender is drafting in two executives with significant experience in the US market to assist the push and complete a senior management overhaul under Hamers.

This week, it announced it was hiring Sarah Youngwood, formerly chief financial officer of JPMorgan’s consumer business, as group chief finance officer, taking over from Kirt Gardner in May.

UBS has also nominated former Morgan Stanley president Colm Kelleher as chair, to succeed Axel Weber when he steps down in April.

The bank enjoyed strong business during the coronavirus pandemic, with its wealthy clients’ assets soaring thanks to the trillions of dollars central banks have pumped into the global economy, spurring a recovery in stock markets.

In October, UBS recorded its most profitable quarter for wealth management, with $1.5bn of pre-tax profits, up 43 per cent from a year earlier.

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