The senior bankers being let go by UBS in Asia may soon want to hire from their former firm

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UBS is cutting the senior ranks of its private bank in Singapore and Hong Kong. But when these managers eventually join rival firms they will look to poach some of their former UBS team members.

Among the MDs and EDs already reported to be leaving UBS in Asia are Joseph Poon, head of ultra-high net worth (UHNW) for Southeast Asia, and Urs Grueter, a 17-year UBS veteran and country team head for Malaysia.

A source with knowledge of the bank says that other senior managers who’ve lost their jobs include Duncan Ong, Indonesian desk head in Singapore; and Hong Kong-based banker PH Chng, country team head for Taiwan.

A handful of other managers in Asia have also been made redundant – mainly country team heads (who manage about three or four desk heads), and desk heads, who are in charge of about eight to 10 bankers.

The redundancies are part of a cost-cutting exercise announced by UBS wealth management head Juerg Zeltner earlier this month and targeted at non-client facing roles.

“This is a signal to financial markets that UBS is properly focused on cost,” says a consultant who works with private banks in Asia. “UBS has too many management layers, as might Credit Suisse in a few years because it’s building in Asia now.”

The layoffs are also being driven by Edmund Koh, UBS’ Asia Pacific head of wealth management. “He was promoted in November so it’s natural that he’d implement his own strategy,” says a private banking headhunter. “He’s decided to let go of senior, high cost, non-revenue producing managers.”

“UBS won’t refill most of these roles – these are proper redundancies. All are good bankers, but were too expensive and not running a book,” adds the headhunter.

He says the ex-UBS managers will all get hired by other firms, although it may take them several months to find suitably senior positions.

The danger for UBS is that they may try to entice the relationship managers who reported into them at UBS to join them at their new banks. It’s fairly common in private banking for RMs to follow former bosses.

“There will be banks interested in their managerial capabilities and they may be able to attract a team of bankers to go with them,” says the headhunter.

The managerial redundancies, however, make up a small percentage of UBS’ Asian headcount. The Swiss firm’s wealth unit employs around 2,800 people, including about 1,100 relationship managers, in the region – the largest Asian headcount of any private bank.

In March UBS opened new offices in Shanghai and in Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, where it plans to double headcount from 50 to 100 by the end of the year.

Recruiters confirm that UBS continues to hire relationship managers in both Singapore and Hong Kong.

A spokesperson for the bank in Singapore would not comment on the redundancies.

Correction: this article updates a previous version which incorrectly included a name of a senior manager among those affected by the redundancies.

Image credit: karenfoleyphotography, iStock, Thinkstock


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