Culture clash: the challenge of uniting fierce rivals UBS and Credit Suisse

It took simply 72 hours for Swiss regulators to fast-track a $3.25bn rescue of Credit score Suisse by its rival UBS.

Now executives on the two banks face a painful few years as they combine the companies. Hundreds of jobs shall be misplaced, complete information programs transferred and tens of billions of {dollars}’ price of belongings wound down. However insiders mentioned the most important worry inside UBS was shield its fastidiously restored values from what one senior determine on the financial institution described as a “rancid” tradition in components of Credit score Suisse.

“The place we discover proof of dangerous tradition, examples shall be made ‘pour encourager les autres,’” mentioned a second senior UBS determine, referring to the French author and thinker Voltaire, who coined the phrase. Credit score Suisse shall be made to regulate to UBS’s approach of doing issues, not the opposite approach spherical.

Tradition could be an asset to an organisation, however it may also be a threat. It dictates how workers work together with one another and shoppers, the selections they make and what priorities a enterprise has — all of which have an effect on monetary efficiency. From the board and government staff to compliance, threat and ethics features, everybody has an element to play.

Thomas Roulet, an affiliate professor on the College of Cambridge’s Choose Enterprise College, mentioned company tradition can clarify “aggressive benefit” inside industries. However when two corporations can’t align after a deal, it’s harmful. “There is likely to be a lot divergence they can not agree on the best way ahead, and there’s clear animosity to the purpose the 2 [sides] spend their power attempting to do away with one another reasonably than paving a route ahead for the merged group.”

Earlier than the 2008 monetary disaster, the 2 large Swiss banks had been each considered as pretty hard-charging establishments. However after UBS was bailed out by the state and have become caught up in scandals together with a extremely delicate US tax dispute and $2bn of losses by a rogue dealer, it modified course. The financial institution curtailed its racier actions, cleaned itself up and rebuilt as a extra conservative wealth supervisor. Credit score Suisse, which didn’t should be rescued in 2008 and is thought for its leveraged financing enterprise, solely pushed tougher into traditional big-risk, big-reward funding banking, hiring aggressively and increasing quick.

UBS chair Colm Kelleher extends a hand to Credit score Suisse’s Axel Lehmann © Denis Balibouse/Reuters

One dealmaker who spent years working at each establishments mentioned this division was on the coronary heart of the tradition conflict and distinction in how the banks’ employees behaved. “UBS has at all times been a really pleasant, collegial, team-oriented tradition. After I say pleasant, I imply, they really like one another . . . Funding banking was by no means part of the DNA of UBS,” he mentioned.

“Credit score Suisse is likely to be the alternative in that every particular person was very sharp-elbowed. Mainly at Credit score Suisse you had been informed to reap the benefits of the stability sheet and obtained paid a large bonus, that was the sport. And it was the sport for 30 years. And there was no sense of being in it collectively,” he added.

One former UBS worker mentioned funding banking was considered akin to playing contained in the lender. Credit score Suisse’s home financial institution is taken into account enticing, however for a “not flashy, maintain your head down” tradition like UBS’s, the asset administration arm and funding banking division are extra problematic.

When information circulated final week that the Swiss regulators had pledged a liquidity lifeline to Credit score Suisse, a gaggle of the corporate’s funding bankers and their shoppers had been in a company field on the John Mayer live performance in Madison Sq. Backyard in New York. The bankers “began high-fiving”, in response to one particular person current.

The 160-year previous UBS, which has taken a very long time to really feel safe about its present enterprise tradition, now has to fastidiously weave within the riskier components of Credit score Suisse’s operations.

On the press convention saying the deal, UBS chair Colm Kelleher made a pointed comment, saying the financial institution would curtail Credit score Suisse’s funding financial institution the place the losses have escalated, to align it extra with “our conservative threat tradition”.

Probably the most quick consequence for employees — as with every large takeover — shall be job losses. Headhunters mentioned Credit score Suisse workers had been already on the frantic hunt for brand spanking new positions, with tens of 1000’s more likely to be sacked.

Those who keep should adapt.

UBS has groups trawling by means of Credit score Suisse HR information for “proof of cultural slippage”, mentioned one of many senior figures on the financial institution. A precedence is figuring out those that have dedicated regulatory infractions, people who find themselves closely motivated by pay and are “holding the agency to ransom” and people who had been forgiven for previous transgressions or handled “softly”. This behaviour shall be “rooted out”, he mentioned.

Timothy Galpin, senior lecturer of technique and innovation at Saïd Enterprise College mentioned tradition mismanagement may trigger “heartburn” after a deal, even with two prepared members, not to mention these rapidly pressured collectively.

“I predict there shall be lots of issues,” he mentioned. “UBS just isn’t buying a small regional financial institution the place you soak up just a few retail branches. It is a a lot larger organisation so every thing should be negotiated.”

He added that senior UBS executives would wish to make sure that they had a agency grip on a sequence of levers together with company values, recruitment, communication methods, pay and the organisational construction.

“All the things is occurring at an unimaginable tempo. They’re altering the tyres whereas going 60 miles an hour down the highway. Evaluation, planning and implementation is occurring on an iterative foundation and doing all this concurrently and at tempo, will imply it’s chaotic except it’s managed tightly,” he mentioned.

Prior examples of banking offers in instances of disaster can present classes for Swiss regulators and executives. Whereas the Chase acquisition of JPMorgan could be considered successful — the place each companies retained their very own identities and clientele, the JPMorgan 2008 transaction for Bear Stearns is considered in another way by some. “Their [Bear Stearns’] greatest folks went off and created Guggenheim Companions, and different key folks from Bear Stearns went elsewhere,” mentioned one high M&A lawyer.

Financial institution of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2008 is one other instance the place cultures clashed. “Merrill Lynch was at all times very a lot the previous line broker-dealer, funding banker, they weren’t industrial bankers in any respect. Financial institution of America was very a lot a industrial financial institution.” Once more the consequence, the lawyer mentioned, was that a few of Merrill Lynch’s greatest folks left.

He added that buying a monetary establishment was in contrast to different corporations as belongings had been “illusory”. Clients can transfer their deposits and their enterprise elsewhere quickly. “To sum it up: liabilities keep, belongings and folks transfer. That’s actually the chance once you’re taking on a failed or failing establishment.”

UBS has made clear it’s on the offensive and is loath to permit in forces that might disrupt a fragile and onerous received equilibrium. “UBS won’t threat its personal future or tradition after all of the robust instances it went by means of,” mentioned Chris Roebuck, a former UBS worker who was tasked with serving to to combine the corporate within the years after the 1998 merger of Union Financial institution of Switzerland and Swiss Financial institution Company.

“It is a pressured marriage by the regulators to keep away from a catastrophe and now everyone at UBS goes ‘oh my god’. How can we make this work in a approach that’s financially viable, culturally viable and doesn’t kill off UBS?”

Further reporting by Ortenca Aliaj in New York

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