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UBS targets American wealth for growth as investment bank shines

ZURICH (Reuters) - UBS UBSG.S said it is targeting ultra-rich Americans for growth, as it reported a strong investment banking performance which offset sluggishness in its wealth management business.

Switzerland’s biggest bank, which manages the money of half the world’s billionaires, said on Thursday it aims to bring in 70 billion Swiss francs ($70 billion) in new inflows from the United States over the next three years.

With more billionaires hailing from the United States than anywhere else in the world, Swiss money managers have started courting wealthy Americans who might be seeking to invest some of their cash abroad.

The new targets from UBS come as geopolitical jitters and trade tensions have put pressure on its main business, with its wealth management division suffering from clients trading less.

But UBS posted a surprise 32 percent rise in overall third-quarter net profit after a 75 percent jump in investment banking pre-tax profit and strong business in the Americas offset modest growth in the wealth management division and flat earnings in its home market and Europe, Middle East and Africa region.


Facing a highly competitive and largely saturated Swiss wealth management market and sluggish growth prospects in Europe, UBS said it planned to expand in the United States.

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It aims for pre-tax profit growth at the upper end of the unit’s 10-15 percent target over 2019-2021, while it brings in fresh money at a 2-4 percent annual rate.

“Expansion in the American ultra-high net worth segment alone is expected to contribute significant net new money over the next three years,” UBS said in a statement.

It also wants to deliver a pre-tax profit margin of 25 percent in the United States by 2021, marking a 900 basis point rise from the 16 percent it posted in the third quarter.

Wealth management co-heads Martin Blessing and Tom Naratil are scheduled to provide details on the plans at 1300 GMT.


Although UBS again outperformed expectations at its investment bank, analysts and investors have been cautious about welcoming gains in a business seen as more volatile and outside the Zurich-based bank’s core focus.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen at a branch office in Basel, Switzerland, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

Over the last decade, the bank has scaled back its capital-intensive investment bank to focus more on banking the world’s rich. It says the business is essential to fully servicing wealth management clients, focusing on profitable advisory and execution niches that use up less of the balance sheet.

UBS outlined few major changes for its investment bank, after former boss Andrea Orcel left to head Spain's biggest bank Santander SAN.MC in September. It is now run by co-heads Piero Novelli and Robert Karofsk, who are scheduled to provide further details shortly after 1500 GMT.

Shares in UBS were up 1.9 percent by 0927 GMT, compared to a 1.4 percent rise in Europe’s overall banking sector.

($1 = 0.9975 Swiss francs)

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields and Alexander Smith