UBS executives told shareholders on Wednesday that its unexpected takeover of Swiss rival Credit Suisse in the biggest bank rescue since the global financial crisis was a milestone for the industry and a major challenge for the bank.
Describing the transaction as “the first merger of two globally systematically important banks,” Chairman Colm Kelleher sought to assure investors saying it also meant “a new beginning and huge opportunities ahead for the combined bank and for the Swiss financial center as a whole.”
Last month, Swiss authorities announced that UBS would buy Credit Suisse in a shotgun merger to stem further banking turmoil after the smaller lender had come to the brink of collapse.
After a run on deposits, the Swiss government had turned to UBS, which agreed to buy Credit Suisse for 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.3 billion), while the Alpine state put up more than 200 billion francs of support and guarantees.
The move angered not only shareholders but many in Switzerland. A survey by political research firm gfs.bern found a majority of Swiss did not support the deal that would create a financial institution with assets double the size of the country’s annual economic output.
Shareholders of Switzerland’s largest bank will have the chance to air their views, although they may be wary about rocking a boat that had been on a steady course.
For 2022, UBS reported a net profit of $7.6 billion and strong inflows in wealth management, the company’s flagship division.
Now, the bank is looking at how to navigate the mammoth task of integrating Credit Suisse, the success of which Switzerland depends on, without undermining its strengths.
It has already taken the first steps. Last week, UBS announced it had rehired Sergio Ermotti as chief executive to steer the massive takeover – a surprise move to take advantage of the Swiss banker’s experience rebuilding the bank after the global financial crisis.
Addressing shareholders for the final time as chief executive, Rolf Hamers acknowledged the merger has led to new priorities for the bank, bringing a change at its helm.
“The acquisition of Credit Suisse will be a major challenge,” Hamers said, while echoing the bank’s chairman in highlighting new opportunities.
“It is expected to create a business with more than USD 5 trillion in total invested assets,” he said.
Wednesday marks Ermotti’s first official day back in the job, but he is not expected to attend the annual general meeting in Basel.
The bank’s annual general meeting comes a day after executives at Credit Suisse faced their own shareholders and Chairman Axel Lehmann apologised for leading the bank to the verge of bankruptcy.
On Tuesday, Reuters also reported that the Bank of England had approved UBS’ takeover of Credit Suisse in Britain, a key market for the Swiss lenders racing to close the rescue deal.
UBS also secured a temporary green light from European Union antitrust regulators to complete its acquisition of Credit Suisse, but will still have to request clearance under EU merger rules, the European Commission said.