Julius Baer CEO says bank can grow to $1 trln wealth manager

ZURICH, Sept 12 (Reuters) – Julius Baer’s (BAER.S) chief executive said on Tuesday there was nothing standing in the way of the Swiss bank becoming a $1 trillion wealth manager sometime in the next decade.

Speaking at an LSEG and Reuters Newsmaker event in Zurich, Philipp Rickenbacher said it was within reach for the bank to double its assets under management to 1 trillion Swiss francs ($1.12 trillion) in the 2030s, though he declined to give an exact timeline or commit to that figure as a specific goal.

Instead, the executive, who has led the bank since September 2019, described the figure as a “thought hurdle,” which Switzerland’s second-largest listed bank would achieve mainly through organic growth.

“We are a growth company. We have proven that over the last decade, and if you take the long-term horizon, there’s nothing in the way of us further gaining in scale in such a growing market across the globe,” Rickenbacher said.

The executive said that current uncertainties surrounding the United States, worries about the European downturn and China’s economy slowing, meant many clients were sitting on cash.

“I think the propensity of investors today to invest in the capital markets is a little bit muted,” he told the event.

Rickenbacher said that while a shift in external conditions could improve client confidence, so far some uncertainties remained.

He sounded cautiously optimistic about the resilience of the world’s number one and two economies but made clear Julius Baer had no plans for significant expansion in the United States or mainland China.

“None or only a very few foreign players have ever generated true economic profit through their commercial activities,” Rickenbacher said about the U.S. wealth management market, adding the bank’s current international network was sufficient to generate growth.

Asked whether the bank planned any large investments to grow its onshore business in China, he said: “No, not from our side.”

He also said he expected Switzerland to defend its position as the global leader in offshore wealth management despite having to deal with the fallout from Credit Suisse’s collapse and its rescue by UBS (UBSG.S).

Switzerland is still the world’s number one location for offshore wealth, with $2.4 trillion under management in 2022, according to estimates from Boston Consulting Group. But Hong Kong and Singapore are catching up.

While Credit Suisse’s demise came as a shock to the financial community the way Switzerland managed to resolve the problem without any disruption to the market has shown its strength as a financial marketplace.

“The strength of the Swiss banks, of the Swiss economy, of the Swiss political system … I think this is the foundation to be the preeminent number one financial place for cross border wealth management,” he told the event.

“We have a few close competitors behind, but if Switzerland runs fast enough, I believe… we can defend and extend on that position.”

Still, there needed to be some changes to regulations to protect banks in an era when social media made bank runs more likely and more devastating.

The executive backed a public liquidity backstop to support banks where clients suddenly withdrew huge amounts of funds – which was the immediate cause for the fall of Credit Suisse.

Julius Baer was focusing on organic growth to achieve its aims, he said, with the bank looking to hire up to 200 wealth managers this year.

Buying other banks to bulk up the bank’s size however would prove more difficult, with other banks reluctant to sell up, he said.

“I think the M&A market is still dead, putting it very bluntly,” Rickenbacher said. “Everyone is and wants to be in wealth management and everyone sticks to it, even those players who are not as efficient, not as effective as others.”

He declined to comment on speculation linking Julius Baer with Swiss bank EFG International (EFGN.S).

“I think the focus has absolutely to be on organic development.”

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