UBS wealth-management split gives CEO race two front-runners

UBS has appointed Iqbal Khan, the bank’s head of wealth management, as president of the Swiss lender’s Asia-Pacific region and Rob Karofsky, its investment-banking chief, as head of the Americas, the company announced Thursday. Khan and Karofsky will co-lead UBS’s wealth management unit, the bank said.

The move effectively sets Khan and Karofsky up as front-runners to succeed Sergio Ermotti as CEO when he chooses to retire, Andreas Venditti, an analyst at Vontobel, wrote in a note seen Thursday by Bloomberg.

UBS dismissed the idea that Ermotti’s successor would be an external candidate, the Financial Times reported Monday. The bank plans instead to choose from a shortlist of three internal candidates who could be announced as early as at next year’s annual meeting, people familiar with the matter told the publication. Ermotti has said he plans to step down in 2027 at the latest.

Khan will replace Edmund Koh atop Asia, UBS said. Koh will stay with the bank, though, as regional chair of Asia-Pacific after Khan assumes responsibility Sept. 1.

“[Khan] has a huge job ahead of him, and there is no guarantee he will succeed,” Johann Scholtz, a banking analyst at Morningstar, told the Financial Times in March. “If he can deliver, it will be a massive feather in his cap.”

Karofsky’s shift away from the investment bank means George Athanasopoulos and Marco Valla will become co-presidents of that unit, UBS announced Thursday.

Karofsky’s ascent in the Americas, meanwhile, means Naureen Hassan, UBS’s regional president there, will step down effective July 1. Hassan joined the bank from the New York Fed in 2022.

Perhaps the best-known executive to leave UBS amid Thursday’s shuffle is Ulrich Körner, the last independent CEO of Credit Suisse. Körner will step down from UBS’s board at the end of June, after the integration of Credit Suisse is complete, and retire later this year. His upcoming departure had been teased this month in the Financial Times.

Another departure is one that’s a second time coming. UBS tapped Damian Vogel as its next chief risk officer. Vogel will replace Christian Bluhm, who left the bank in 2022 to pursue a photography career — only to return six months later, in the aftermath of the UBS-Credit Suisse merger announcement.

The UBS-Credit Suisse transaction is set to close Friday, the bank said, and the entities will form a single intermediate holding company in the U.S. next month.

“The appointments to the Group Executive Board we are announcing today will allow us to continue to progress on our integration journey and realize the expected synergies and efficiencies, while putting even more emphasis on our long-term priorities and growth prospects, particularly in the Americas and Asia-Pacific,” Ermotti said in a statement Thursday.

While Khan and Karofsky could presumably be two of the three shortlisted CEO candidates, the third remains somewhat of a mystery. Analysts have suggested Beatriz Martin Jimenez, head of UBS’s non-core and legacy unit, and Sabine Keller-Busse, head of UBS’s Swiss business, may also be in the running for the bank’s top spot.

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