Switzerland wakes to new era after historic bank merger; employees ‘shocked’

By Tom Sims and John Revill

ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland awoke to a new era on Monday after UBS swept up Credit Suisse in a government-brokered rescue that dented the country’s long-held pride in its banking expertise.

A bank employee association said it was deeply shocked by the potential consequences from the deal to save the 167-year-old Credit Suisse after customer and market confidence in the lender evaporated.

In a package orchestrated by Swiss regulators on Sunday, UBS will pay 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.23 billion) for Credit Suisse and assume up to $5.4 billion in losses.

Headquartered just a few minutes’ walk away from each other, not far from Lake Zurich in the centre of the city with snow-capped mountains on the horizon, the two lenders have been pillars of global finance for decades.

    The banks, two of the most systemically relevant in global finance, hold combined assets of up to 140% of Swiss gross domestic product, according to the central bank, in a country heavily dependent on finance for its economy.

Graphic: Bank exposure Bank exposure https://www.reuters.com/graphics/CREDITSUISSE-CRISIS/zgvobarewpd/chart.png

The Swiss Bank Employees Association, in a statement to Reuters, demanded that UBS keep job cuts to an “absolute minimum”.

“The jobs of very many employees are at stake,” it said, adding that it was in touch with management.

The statement underscores the sense of unease in Switzerland, with its reputation as a global financial center on the line.

Green Party lawmaker Gerhard Andrey said that Credit Suisse is “such a visible institute”.

“This puts us in a very difficult situation as a country,” he said.

Some expressed concerns about the dominant position of UBS.

Tobias Straumann, professor of economic history at the University of Zurich, said it was “astonishing” that authorities did not make special provisions to deal with competition.

Swiss media was also shocked by the developments.

“A zombie is gone but a monster is born,” read the title of a commentary in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung, often seen as the voice of the establishment.

“A few months ago, nobody would have thought that Credit Suisse would fail. However it is not an accident,” the newspaper wrote in the piece accusing the bank of arrogance and pride.

“The Swiss bank had a stock market value of CHF 100 billion in 2007, of which CHF 7 billion were left last Friday,” it said.

“There has thus been a massive destruction of value, at the hands of managers who have carelessly underestimated risks and helpless board members who have too often failed to control things.”

The Tages-Anzeiger newspaper described the affair as a “historic scandal”.

“The federal government, the financial supervisory authority and the national bank let themselves be ripped off by UBS,” the paper wrote.

    “The new mega bank has the advantages – taxpayers, customers, and employees have the disadvantages,” the paper added in an editorial, warning of brutal job cuts ahead.

Still, UBS Chief Executive Ralph Hamers – who will lead the new combined entity as CEO – was confident his bank was up to challenge of making the takeover a success.

“The takeover means that we are bringing back stability and security for CS clients,” Hamers said. “But also that we are upholding the reputation of the Swiss financial centre.”

Other Swiss banks were positioning themselves in a new pecking order in Switzerland’s banking landscape as Credit Suisse, previously the No. 2 bank, falls by the wayside.

    “Zeurcher Kantonalbank offers all business areas of a universal bank and is thus a complement to the newly emerging big bank,” Chief Executive Urs Baumann wrote on Linkedin.

(Reporting by Tom Sims and John Revill; additional reporting by Noele Illien; editing by Robert Birsel and Louise Heavens)

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