UBS Doubles Down on Low-Key Banking Strategy


With its rehiring of mergers-and-acquisition expert Piero Novelli , UBS continues its march toward low-key but stable client and advisory services, and away from highly profitable but highly flammable lines of business like investment banking -- echoing similarly smart moves made by its global peers.

An offer he couldn't refuse, apparently
Yes, UBS is rehiring Novelli. Novelli worked for UBS from 2004 to 2009 as global head of M&A, at which point he left to work for Japanese superbank Nomura , this time as global co-head of M&A. Novell is an old hand at the position, joining UBS for the first time after a stint as head of European M&A at Merrill Lynch.

In a memo seen by Financial Times, which broke the story, UBS investment bank CEO Andrea Orcel told employees Novelli's rehire would "strengthen and drive forward our global advisory practice and ensure greater global connectivity."

Boring is better
UBS had a rough 2012. In December, the Swiss banking giant was hit with a combined $1.5 billion fine by U.S., U.K., and Swiss banking authorities for manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR: the world's fundamental interest rate. Then again in December, two former UBS traders were indicted by the Department of Justice for, yes, manipulating the LIBOR .

The bank is genuinely trying to clean up its act as it deals with messes left over from the past. One of these clean-up measures is a move away from investment banking -- which can be very profitable but also very dangerous -- and back toward client advisory and wealth management services. Many of UBS' peers are taking a similar tack.

Last year, Goldman Sachs opened a "private bank" to cater to its wealthy clients around the world. And Morgan Stanley finalized a deal to buy out the remainder of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (now renamed Morgan Stanley Wealth Management) from Citigroup .

After decades of being relegated to the financial backwaters, client-focused services are back in style, and UBS investors -- along with the rest of world, still recovering from a global recession brought on by a profit-at-all-costs investment-banking sector -- should be grateful.

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