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曾丑闻缠身的瑞银是如何起死回生的?

曾丑闻缠身的瑞银是如何起死回生的?

BERNHARD WARNER 2020年10月03日
瑞银在疫情期间的状况可能比十年前还好一些。

埃尔默蒂在光荣离任前揭开了瑞银转败为胜的奥秘。图片来源:WEI LENG TAY——彭博社/GETTY IMAGES

2012年2月,刚就任瑞银集团首席执行官一职的塞尔吉奥·埃尔默蒂召开了首次全体会议。最早的那段日子里,集团股价总算有所回暖,但员工们的士气却依旧低迷。正如瑞士银行业巨头的一位资深人士在接受《财富》杂志采访时所说,“那个时候,如果你在瑞银集团里工作的话,就连邮递员都会抱怨你。”

那一年,刚好150周岁的瑞银集团深陷泥沼。瑞银成为了受美国次贷危机影响最大的外国银行,其客户们的投资组合也遭受了重创。早在2008年,瑞银几乎已确定要承担巨额亏损,但历史性的一刻发生了:瑞士政府决定向瑞银提供紧急财政援助。击溃瑞银集团的最后一根稻草出现在2011年9月:为了填补亏损,瑞银驻伦敦的一名操盘手进行了一系列虚构的交易,最终导致瑞银损失了23亿美元。

“我还清楚地记得听到这个消息的时候我在哪儿,”常驻苏黎世的银行记者卢卡斯·海西格说,“但我心想,‘不可能吧。瑞银?又是瑞银?!又爆出丑闻了?’”

当时的瑞银集团首席执行官郭儒博看出,这不是个好兆头。于是几天后他就辞职了,向埃尔默蒂敞开了机遇之门。

在首次员工会议上,这位新领导就化解了屋内的紧张气氛。他问说,你们之中有多少人因为这份工作而觉得自豪?他又说,如果不觉得自豪,就请举起手。埃尔默蒂难以置信地摇了摇头,回忆说:“你根本想象不到,有多少人举起了手。”

出生于瑞士的埃尔默蒂一上任就提出了一项彻底的重组计划,彻底清洗这家丑闻缠身的银行。安全且可靠的理财业务成为了瑞银的新卖点,在全球金融危机期间亏损最为惨重的投行业务则被砍掉。

在首席财务官眼中,这是一项非常不错的重组计划,但却彻底打乱了普通员工们的步伐。没错,该计划将(按照监管机构的要求)扩充银行的资本储备,并清空账面上的不良贷款。但此举也并非完全没有风险。在次贷危机期间,瑞银与许多超级富豪客户之间的关系都降到了冰点,为了实现该计划,瑞银就需重建与这些客户之间的联系。

现年60岁的埃尔默蒂将于11月1日从瑞银离职,他的继任者则是荷兰国际集团的掌门人拉尔夫·哈默斯。8月底时,埃尔默蒂在位于意大利-瑞士边境的卢加诺家庭办公室内,通过Skype接受了《财富》杂志的采访,讲述了这段长达10年的工作经历。

埃尔默蒂曾是名操盘手及投资银行家,职业生涯的大部分时间都身处国外。他并不是那种传统意义上的瑞士银行家。过去,瑞银总会从瑞士军方招募大批员工。多年以来,该集团的企业文化都非常严格且隐秘。海西格解释说:“只有在晋升到将军级别之后,你才有可能进入瑞银的最高管理层。”

2011年,50岁的埃尔默蒂离开意大利裕信银行,加入瑞银集团,负责欧洲、中东和非洲地区的业务。不同寻常的是,几个月之后,他就登上了最高峰。这位前投资银行家上任后做的第一件事就是:砍掉瑞银的投行业务。起初,这几件事都没能让他在理财领域成为一个可信的胜利者。

埃尔默蒂却迅速发现了理财领域的吸引力。

价值1350亿美元的理财业务有着巨大的增长空间。“在过去的20年里,财富增长的一个显著特征就是非凡的韧性,”波士顿咨询公司在6月份的年度理财报告中写道,“尽管经历了多次危机,但事实证明,财富增长依然非常强劲,即便经历了最严峻的考验,也能触底反弹。”

富人阶层正在以进入现代以来最快的速度扩充自身的财富。在过去的20年里,个人财富值增长了近两倍,从1999年的80万亿美元增长到了2019年底的226万亿美元。为了满足顶层人士的需求,全球最顶级的私人银行家和理财大师们也因此获得了源源不断的酬金。

埃尔默蒂说,“像财富创造和人口结构变化这样体量庞大的长线型趋势正推动着理财行业不断前进。无论是在新兴市场还是在西方经济体内——无论是否出现了疫情,这都是不争的事实。”

迄今为止,理财仍是大型金融机构内未被金融科技新贵严重颠覆的领域之一。超高净值客户(至少拥有3000万美元个人财富的客户)不会被那些免费投资应用程序扰乱心神。他们需要多样化的投资选择来让自己的钱增值。他们常常会在股票和债券之外寻找商业机会。理财经理常会听到这样一系列的问题:我该不该投资给一家越南的制造商?托斯卡纳区的葡萄园怎么样?我怎么才能加入这家有上市潜力的科技初创企业?

早在全球金融危机爆发之前,瑞银的理财团队就已经扩充到了相当的规模。它是首批发现亚洲的经济繁荣中藏着巨大机遇的欧洲大型银行之一。在埃尔默蒂的领导之下,瑞银在大力发展海外业务的同时,也重建了与欧洲富裕阶层之间的关系。此外,瑞银削减了投行业务的规模,把资源分配给了其它业务。埃尔默蒂解释说:“我刚加入瑞银的时候,投行所获资本占风险加权资产的比例约为75%。而如今,就只剩下了三分之一。这也更好地反映了我们的商业模式和预计的营收量。”

投资者们像老鹰一样紧盯着银行的风险加权比率。这项数值越低,银行就越有能力灵活地将利润再投资到真正能提高收益的领域:科技、人才招募、收购或向财力更雄厚的客户放贷等。但若是一家银行每个季度都要拿出数十亿美元来支撑风险更高的资产,那么它用于投资和增收的资本就会相应地缩水。

埃尔默蒂成为首席执行官的第一年里,瑞银都处于清理模式之中。从2011到2012年间,瑞银加持了约1700亿瑞士法郎(合1850亿美元)的风险加权资产,并将其卖给了出价最高的买家。其中很大一部分——387亿美元——都被重新整合进了专项计划,并在瑞士国家银行的管控下对外出售。

重组计划取得了成效。他说:“我们花了几个季度的时间让市场相信,瑞银正在朝着正确的方向前进。得到了市场的信任之后,我们就决定加快实行这一战略。”

截至2013年,瑞银已经成为了世界范围内规模最大的理财机构。最终,全球一半的亿万富翁都成为了他们的客户。如今,瑞银掌管的全球理财资产已达2.6万亿美元,同市的瑞信银行等竞争对手也随即行动了起来。

埃尔默蒂任职期间,理财部门吸引了3620亿美元的“新增净资本”。该数值备受私人银行家关注,被视为获取客户的指标。对瑞银及其股东来说,让富裕阶层变得更富裕向来都是个极好的策略。在过去10年里,理财业务产生的稳定酬劳使得瑞银的资本基础增长了110亿美元。此外,这项业务帮助瑞银连续几年实现了盈利,股息回报率也超过了200亿美元。

埃尔默蒂表示,新冠疫情从根本上改变了理财业务——尤其是在技术方面。他说:“举例来讲,我们会定期召开会议,向我们的客户告知相关的主旋律。一般我们会有,比方说,100个客户来参加线下活动。但由于现在只能召开网络会议,所以参加的人数就增加了三四倍。”

金融评级机构Scope Ratings位于柏林,其执行董事波林·兰伯特表示,没有哪家银行能抵抗住疫情的冲击,但拥有理财业务和低坏账风险的瑞银集团几乎做到了这一点。“这种业务组合的商业模式很好地适应了新冠疫情下的状况。”

兰伯特指出,一系列指标均能说明,瑞银有着银行业内最健康的借贷账目和最多样化的收入来源,在当前的低利率时代,这些因素都至关重要。

从业务范围来看,酬劳和佣金——即便是在经济危机时期,也带来了非常稳定的收益——占瑞银总收益的近60%,欧洲的其它竞争对手都望尘莫及。与之相比,瑞银的借贷拨备可以说是微乎其微。平均每借出100美元,就相当于只搁置了32美分,这不仅说明瑞银客户拖欠贷款的可能性相对较低,也证明投资者们不必担心2008年的金融危机会再次上演。

兰伯特表示,如今,投资者们再次把借贷状况视为评估银行的标准是一种明智之举,因为在新冠疫情期间,借贷可能就会成为巨额负债。

埃尔默蒂及其团队在第二季度做到了许多竞争对手无法做到的事。瑞银集团公布的季度净利润为12亿美元,远远超出了2.5亿美元的盈亏底线。更重要的是,埃尔默蒂宣布,瑞银的发展曲线已呈上升趋势——和他们最大的竞争对手拉开了巨大的差距。同一季度,摩根大通、富国银行和花旗集团不得不拨备总共近280亿美元填补坏账,而瑞银集团只需拨备2.72亿美元。

到目前为止,投资者们都对瑞银集团的股票保持着严密关注:虽然今年瑞银股票表现平平,但路孚特Datastream公布的世界银行指数已经跌到了-28.4%,与之相比,瑞银股票已经很不错了。

和其它银行一样,瑞银也面临着巨大的挑战。未来数年,全球经济增长都将呈不稳定的态势。世界最大经济体的利率几乎都爬不到正值。市场将继续动荡。这些都不是促进价值股上涨的有利条件,银行价值股就更别提了。

但由于逐渐赢回了员工、客户和市场的信任,瑞银在疫情期间的状况可能比十年前还好一些。从很大程度上来说,这都是埃尔默蒂的功劳,也是那些在十年前的第一次会议上表明自己的观点,并在这些年里坚持表达的员工们的功劳。“所有举了手的人都告诉我,他们真的在乎瑞银的未来,”他说,“你知道吗?如果不是全心全意为银行考虑的人,可能根本就不会举手。”(财富中文网)

本文以“A Swiss surprise”为题刊登在《财富》杂志2020年10月刊上。

译者:殷圆圆

2012年2月,刚就任瑞银集团首席执行官一职的塞尔吉奥·埃尔默蒂召开了首次全体会议。最早的那段日子里,集团股价总算有所回暖,但员工们的士气却依旧低迷。正如瑞士银行业巨头的一位资深人士在接受《财富》杂志采访时所说,“那个时候,如果你在瑞银集团里工作的话,就连邮递员都会抱怨你。”

那一年,刚好150周岁的瑞银集团深陷泥沼。瑞银成为了受美国次贷危机影响最大的外国银行,其客户们的投资组合也遭受了重创。早在2008年,瑞银几乎已确定要承担巨额亏损,但历史性的一刻发生了:瑞士政府决定向瑞银提供紧急财政援助。击溃瑞银集团的最后一根稻草出现在2011年9月:为了填补亏损,瑞银驻伦敦的一名操盘手进行了一系列虚构的交易,最终导致瑞银损失了23亿美元。

“我还清楚地记得听到这个消息的时候我在哪儿,”常驻苏黎世的银行记者卢卡斯·海西格说,“但我心想,‘不可能吧。瑞银?又是瑞银?!又爆出丑闻了?’”

当时的瑞银集团首席执行官郭儒博看出,这不是个好兆头。于是几天后他就辞职了,向埃尔默蒂敞开了机遇之门。

在首次员工会议上,这位新领导就化解了屋内的紧张气氛。他问说,你们之中有多少人因为这份工作而觉得自豪?他又说,如果不觉得自豪,就请举起手。埃尔默蒂难以置信地摇了摇头,回忆说:“你根本想象不到,有多少人举起了手。”

出生于瑞士的埃尔默蒂一上任就提出了一项彻底的重组计划,彻底清洗这家丑闻缠身的银行。安全且可靠的理财业务成为了瑞银的新卖点,在全球金融危机期间亏损最为惨重的投行业务则被砍掉。

在首席财务官眼中,这是一项非常不错的重组计划,但却彻底打乱了普通员工们的步伐。没错,该计划将(按照监管机构的要求)扩充银行的资本储备,并清空账面上的不良贷款。但此举也并非完全没有风险。在次贷危机期间,瑞银与许多超级富豪客户之间的关系都降到了冰点,为了实现该计划,瑞银就需重建与这些客户之间的联系。

现年60岁的埃尔默蒂将于11月1日从瑞银离职,他的继任者则是荷兰国际集团的掌门人拉尔夫·哈默斯。8月底时,埃尔默蒂在位于意大利-瑞士边境的卢加诺家庭办公室内,通过Skype接受了《财富》杂志的采访,讲述了这段长达10年的工作经历。

埃尔默蒂曾是名操盘手及投资银行家,职业生涯的大部分时间都身处国外。他并不是那种传统意义上的瑞士银行家。过去,瑞银总会从瑞士军方招募大批员工。多年以来,该集团的企业文化都非常严格且隐秘。海西格解释说:“只有在晋升到将军级别之后,你才有可能进入瑞银的最高管理层。”

2011年,50岁的埃尔默蒂离开意大利裕信银行,加入瑞银集团,负责欧洲、中东和非洲地区的业务。不同寻常的是,几个月之后,他就登上了最高峰。这位前投资银行家上任后做的第一件事就是:砍掉瑞银的投行业务。起初,这几件事都没能让他在理财领域成为一个可信的胜利者。

埃尔默蒂却迅速发现了理财领域的吸引力。

价值1350亿美元的理财业务有着巨大的增长空间。“在过去的20年里,财富增长的一个显著特征就是非凡的韧性,”波士顿咨询公司在6月份的年度理财报告中写道,“尽管经历了多次危机,但事实证明,财富增长依然非常强劲,即便经历了最严峻的考验,也能触底反弹。”

富人阶层正在以进入现代以来最快的速度扩充自身的财富。在过去的20年里,个人财富值增长了近两倍,从1999年的80万亿美元增长到了2019年底的226万亿美元。为了满足顶层人士的需求,全球最顶级的私人银行家和理财大师们也因此获得了源源不断的酬金。

埃尔默蒂说,“像财富创造和人口结构变化这样体量庞大的长线型趋势正推动着理财行业不断前进。无论是在新兴市场还是在西方经济体内——无论是否出现了疫情,这都是不争的事实。”

迄今为止,理财仍是大型金融机构内未被金融科技新贵严重颠覆的领域之一。超高净值客户(至少拥有3000万美元个人财富的客户)不会被那些免费投资应用程序扰乱心神。他们需要多样化的投资选择来让自己的钱增值。他们常常会在股票和债券之外寻找商业机会。理财经理常会听到这样一系列的问题:我该不该投资给一家越南的制造商?托斯卡纳区的葡萄园怎么样?我怎么才能加入这家有上市潜力的科技初创企业?

早在全球金融危机爆发之前,瑞银的理财团队就已经扩充到了相当的规模。它是首批发现亚洲的经济繁荣中藏着巨大机遇的欧洲大型银行之一。在埃尔默蒂的领导之下,瑞银在大力发展海外业务的同时,也重建了与欧洲富裕阶层之间的关系。此外,瑞银削减了投行业务的规模,把资源分配给了其它业务。埃尔默蒂解释说:“我刚加入瑞银的时候,投行所获资本占风险加权资产的比例约为75%。而如今,就只剩下了三分之一。这也更好地反映了我们的商业模式和预计的营收量。”

投资者们像老鹰一样紧盯着银行的风险加权比率。这项数值越低,银行就越有能力灵活地将利润再投资到真正能提高收益的领域:科技、人才招募、收购或向财力更雄厚的客户放贷等。但若是一家银行每个季度都要拿出数十亿美元来支撑风险更高的资产,那么它用于投资和增收的资本就会相应地缩水。

埃尔默蒂成为首席执行官的第一年里,瑞银都处于清理模式之中。从2011到2012年间,瑞银加持了约1700亿瑞士法郎(合1850亿美元)的风险加权资产,并将其卖给了出价最高的买家。其中很大一部分——387亿美元——都被重新整合进了专项计划,并在瑞士国家银行的管控下对外出售。

重组计划取得了成效。他说:“我们花了几个季度的时间让市场相信,瑞银正在朝着正确的方向前进。得到了市场的信任之后,我们就决定加快实行这一战略。”

截至2013年,瑞银已经成为了世界范围内规模最大的理财机构。最终,全球一半的亿万富翁都成为了他们的客户。如今,瑞银掌管的全球理财资产已达2.6万亿美元,同市的瑞信银行等竞争对手也随即行动了起来。

埃尔默蒂任职期间,理财部门吸引了3620亿美元的“新增净资本”。该数值备受私人银行家关注,被视为获取客户的指标。对瑞银及其股东来说,让富裕阶层变得更富裕向来都是个极好的策略。在过去10年里,理财业务产生的稳定酬劳使得瑞银的资本基础增长了110亿美元。此外,这项业务帮助瑞银连续几年实现了盈利,股息回报率也超过了200亿美元。

埃尔默蒂表示,新冠疫情从根本上改变了理财业务——尤其是在技术方面。他说:“举例来讲,我们会定期召开会议,向我们的客户告知相关的主旋律。一般我们会有,比方说,100个客户来参加线下活动。但由于现在只能召开网络会议,所以参加的人数就增加了三四倍。”

金融评级机构Scope Ratings位于柏林,其执行董事波林·兰伯特表示,没有哪家银行能抵抗住疫情的冲击,但拥有理财业务和低坏账风险的瑞银集团几乎做到了这一点。“这种业务组合的商业模式很好地适应了新冠疫情下的状况。”

兰伯特指出,一系列指标均能说明,瑞银有着银行业内最健康的借贷账目和最多样化的收入来源,在当前的低利率时代,这些因素都至关重要。

从业务范围来看,酬劳和佣金——即便是在经济危机时期,也带来了非常稳定的收益——占瑞银总收益的近60%,欧洲的其它竞争对手都望尘莫及。与之相比,瑞银的借贷拨备可以说是微乎其微。平均每借出100美元,就相当于只搁置了32美分,这不仅说明瑞银客户拖欠贷款的可能性相对较低,也证明投资者们不必担心2008年的金融危机会再次上演。

兰伯特表示,如今,投资者们再次把借贷状况视为评估银行的标准是一种明智之举,因为在新冠疫情期间,借贷可能就会成为巨额负债。

埃尔默蒂及其团队在第二季度做到了许多竞争对手无法做到的事。瑞银集团公布的季度净利润为12亿美元,远远超出了2.5亿美元的盈亏底线。更重要的是,埃尔默蒂宣布,瑞银的发展曲线已呈上升趋势——和他们最大的竞争对手拉开了巨大的差距。同一季度,摩根大通、富国银行和花旗集团不得不拨备总共近280亿美元填补坏账,而瑞银集团只需拨备2.72亿美元。

到目前为止,投资者们都对瑞银集团的股票保持着严密关注:虽然今年瑞银股票表现平平,但路孚特Datastream公布的世界银行指数已经跌到了-28.4%,与之相比,瑞银股票已经很不错了。

和其它银行一样,瑞银也面临着巨大的挑战。未来数年,全球经济增长都将呈不稳定的态势。世界最大经济体的利率几乎都爬不到正值。市场将继续动荡。这些都不是促进价值股上涨的有利条件,银行价值股就更别提了。

但由于逐渐赢回了员工、客户和市场的信任,瑞银在疫情期间的状况可能比十年前还好一些。从很大程度上来说,这都是埃尔默蒂的功劳,也是那些在十年前的第一次会议上表明自己的观点,并在这些年里坚持表达的员工们的功劳。“所有举了手的人都告诉我,他们真的在乎瑞银的未来,”他说,“你知道吗?如果不是全心全意为银行考虑的人,可能根本就不会举手。”(财富中文网)

本文以“A Swiss surprise”为题刊登在《财富》杂志2020年10月刊上。

译者:殷圆圆

In February 2012, Sergio Ermotti called his first town hall meeting as UBS Group’s chief executive. The stock was finally recovering in those early days, but staff morale wasn’t. As one veteran of the Swiss banking giant tells Fortune, “If you had worked for UBS in those days, the mailman would grumble at you.”

The woes of UBS, which turned 150 years old that year, had taken on the urgency of a national crisis. UBS became the foreign bank most exposed to America’s subprime mortgage debacle, decimating clients’ portfolios. In 2008 the Swiss government stepped in with a historic bailout package after UBS booked a mountain of losses. The last straw came in September 2011. A UBS trader in London executed a series of fictitious trades to cover his losing positions, moves that ultimately cost the bank $2.3 billion.

“I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news,” says Lukas Hässig, a longtime chronicler of the Swiss banking world based in Zurich. “I just thought, ‘No fucking way. UBS? Again?! Another scandal?’”

Oswald J. Grübel saw the writing on the wall. He resigned as UBS’s CEO days later, opening the door to Ermotti.

At that first staff meeting, the new boss addressed the tension in the room straightaway. How many of you, he asked, are proud to work for this bank? If you’re not, he instructed, raise your hands. “You would not believe how many people raised their hands,” he recalls, shaking his head in lingering disbelief.

As his first task, the Swiss-born Ermotti presented a radical restructuring plan to clean up the scandal-ridden bank. The safe and dependable wealth management business would be the new focus. The investment banking business, the biggest drag during the global financial crisis, would get the chop. It was a reinvention plan a CFO would love, but it rumpled the rank and file. Yes, it would boost the bank’s capital reserves (per regulators’ requirements) while cleaning up the dodgy loans on its books. But it wasn’t without risk. To work, the bank would need to rebuild ties with many of the same ultrawealthy clients it had burned during the mortgage crisis.

Ermotti, 60, will step down from his post at UBS on Nov. 1, replaced by ING Group’s former boss, Ralph Hamers. Ermotti spoke to Fortune in late August about his decade-long run in a lengthy Skype call from his home office in Lugano, on the Italian-Swiss border.

A former trader and investment banker who spent much of his career outside his homeland, Ermotti isn’t your typical Swiss banker. In past generations, UBS would recruit heavily from the Swiss military. For years, the bank’s culture remained regimented, secretive. “Only if you made it to the rank of general would you be considered for the highest executive ranks at UBS,” Hässig explains.

Ermotti was 50 in 2011 when he joined UBS from Italy’s UniCredit to run the bank’s EMEA divisions. Extraordinarily, he seized the top post months later. Job one for the former investment banker: Cut that same business at UBS down to size. None of that made him a credible champion for wealth management at first.

But Ermotti immediately saw its appeal.

Wealth management is a $135 billion business with huge upside. “One striking feature of wealth growth over the past two decades has been its extraordinary resilience,” BCG wrote in its annual wealth management report in June. “Despite multiple crises, wealth growth has proved to be stubbornly robust, springing back from even the most severe tests.”

The rich are getting fabulously richer at the fastest pace in modern history. Over the past 20 years, personal financial wealth has nearly tripled, rising from $80 trillion in 1999 to $226 trillion by the end of 2019. Catering to the needs of the top tier has caused a steady flow of commissions and fees to rain upon the world’s top private bankers and wealth management gurus.

Ermotti calls these “the tremendous secular trends, such as wealth creation and demographic change, that are driving today’s wealth management industry. This is as true in emerging markets as it is in Western economies—pandemic or no pandemic.”

So far, wealth management is one of the few parts of Big Finance that have yet to be severely disrupted by fintech upstarts. Ultrahigh-net-worth clients (those with a personal fortune of at least $30 million) are not so dazzled by no-fee investing apps. They’re demanding diversified investment options to make their money grow. They’re often looking beyond stocks and bonds, to business opportunities. Wealth managers get a range of questions: Should I invest in a manufacturer in Vietnam? What about a vineyard in Tuscany? How do I get in on that IPO-track tech startup?

UBS had been beefing up its wealth management team well before the global financial crisis. It was one of first big European banks to spot the huge opportunity in Asia’s wealth boom. Under Ermotti, it ramped up the business abroad while rebuilding ties with affluent Europeans. At the same time, it shrank the investment bank to boost growth elsewhere. “The capital allocated to the investment bank as a percentage of risk-weighted assets was around 75% when I joined UBS. It’s a third today, and a better reflection of our business model and expected business returns,” Ermotti explains. Investors watch a bank’s risk-weighted ratio like a hawk. The lower the number, the more flexibility a bank has to reinvest profits into things that actually grow the business: technology, recruiting talent, acquisitions, or loaning out money to more affluent clients. But a bank that’s required to put aside billions every quarter to backstop ever riskier assets is a bank with less ammunition to invest and grow.

In Ermotti’s first year as CEO, the bank was in cleanup mode. In 2011–12, UBS bundled up roughly 170 billion Swiss francs ($185 billion) in risk-weighted assets on its books and sold them off to the highest bidder. A big tranche—$38.7 billion—was repackaged into a single-purpose vehicle and sold off under the management of the Swiss National Bank.

The restructuring paid off. “It took a few quarters to convince the markets that we were moving in the right direction. And when we got them convinced, we decided to accelerate the strategy,” he says.

By 2013, UBS had become the globe’s biggest wealth manager, eventually calling half the world’s billionaires, clients. Today, UBS has grown its global wealth management assets under management to $2.6 trillion, and competitors, including crosstown rival Credit Suisse, are quickly trying to catch up.

During Ermotti’s tenure, the wealth management unit has pulled in $362 billion in “net new money,” a much-watched metric among private bankers that serves as a proxy for customer acquisition. Making wealthy people wealthier has been exceedingly good strategy for UBS and its shareholders. The steady fees from wealth management helped grow its capital base by $11 billion in the past decade. Plus it helped produce a string of profitable years, and return more than $20 billion in dividends.

Ermotti says that COVID has fundamentally changed the wealth management business—especially when it comes to technology. “For example, we regularly run conferences for our clients where we cover big themes. Usually, we’d get, let’s say, 100 clients attending an in-person event. But because we’ve been forced to do it online, we’ve been getting three times, four times more people attending our conferences,” he says.

No bank is pandemic-proof, but UBS with its mix of wealth management and low bad-loan exposure has come close, observes Pauline Lambert, executive director of financial institutions ratings at Berlin-based Scope Ratings. “That’s a business mix and a business model that’s well suited to the COVID environment.”

Lambert points to a string of metrics that show UBS has one of the healthiest loan books and most diversified revenue streams in the banking sector, crucial in this era of low interest rates. According to Scope, fees and commissions—a highly stable inflow, even during an economic crisis—represents nearly 60% of UBS’s revenues, well above its European rivals. Meanwhile, its loan and credit provisions are minuscule. It’s had to put aside just 32¢, on average, for every $100 it’s loaned out, suggesting not only that the prospect of UBS clients defaulting on their loan obligations is relatively remote, but also that investors need not fear a replay of the 2008 financial crisis.

Lambert says investors again today would be wise to assess banks by the strength of their loan books, which could become huge liabilities in the age of COVID.

In the second quarter, Ermotti and his team delivered where so many rivals could not. UBS reported a $1.2 billion quarterly net profit that amounted to a monster $250 million bottom-line “beat.” More important, Ermotti declared that the bank’s outlook already was looking up—a far cry from his biggest competitors. In the same quarter, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup had to set aside nearly a combined $28 billion to cover bad loans vs. just $272 million for UBS.

Investors, so far, are eyeing UBS stock cautiously: Though shares are flat year to date, that compares with a negative 28.4% performance of the Refinitiv Datastream world banks index.

Like all banks, UBS faces enormous challenges. Global economic growth will be unsteady for years. Interest rates will barely budge above zero in the world’s biggest economies. And the markets will continue to be volatile. These are not favorable conditions for a value stock, let alone a bank value stock.

But in clawing back from employees, clients, and the markets much of the respect the bank had once lost, UBS paradoxically may be in better shape today during a pandemic than it was a decade ago. That’s in no small part due to Ermotti but also to those employees who spoke up during that first meeting a decade ago and have continued to deliver since. “All those raised hands told me they really care about the future of the bank,” he says. “If you’re not committed to the bank, you know what? You’re probably not going to raise your hand.”

A version of this article appears in the October 2020 issue of Fortune with the headline "A Swiss surprise."

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