Credit Suisse’s fate is sealed, as Swiss rival UBS acquired the bank for 3 billion francs ($3.2 billion) in a historic deal that has shaken the financial sector. But for its 50,000 employees, many questions remain.
asked staff to return to work as usual this morning, but employees greeted the news that the 167-year-old bank will cease to exist with a mix of anger, surprise, tears and, in some cases, resignation that it had to happen, according to conversations with around a dozen staff at the bank.
“I’ve cried twice in my career. One during my first week in investment banking when I thought ‘what the hell have I let myself into’, and once today,” said one investment banker contacted by Financial News.
“Everyone is stunned by the speed of the downfall,” said another senior investment banker. “We are grasping for details — we know they are going to scale back, but we don’t know by how much.”
The Swiss government pushed through a deal for UBS
to acquire its cross-town rival Credit Suisse during a frantic weekend of negotiations after a crisis of confidence left it on the brink. Karin Keller-Sutter, the Swiss finance minister, said its collapse would have “caused irreparable economic turmoil in Switzerland and the world”.
UBS is set to strip out 8 billion francs in costs over the next four years, with around 6 billion francs of these related to staff, the bank’s chief executive, Ralph Hamers, said during a call with analysts.
The number of potential redundancies from the tie-up has yet to be announced, but it is expected to be significantly higher than the 9,000 cuts planned by Credit Suisse.
Meanwhile, UBS executives have made it clear that they will wind down Credit Suisse’s trading assets in a so-called bad bank, and that its investment bank will be significantly scaled back.
“Let me be very specific, UBS intends to downsize Credit Suisse’s investment bank and align it with our conservative risk culture,” UBS chair Colm Kelleher said during a press conference announcing the deal.
Credit Suisse held a town hall meeting at 9 a.m. on Monday, featuring chief executive Ulrich Körner and other executive board members. According to employees present, staff were encouraged to continue working during the period of upheaval and reminded that despite the merger announcement, UBS remains a competitor of Credit Suisse.
Responding to questions, executives reiterated that a strategy laid out in October, which involved refocusing Credit Suisse around wealth management, cutting risk-weighted assets and spinning out the investment bank into a separate unit called CS First Boston, was still the right one and the bank’s demise was caused by liquidity issues, the people said.
Meanwhile, the future of CS First Boston — the ‘super boutique’ that was set to be headed by former Credit Suisse board member Michael Klein — is still being assessed by UBS, Credit Suisse executives said during the call.
“The game is over for investment bankers,” said one senior Credit Suisse dealmaker who is leaving for a competitor. “Apart from a few teams that UBS might want to keep, we are all working the phones frantically this morning. There has been little communication internally and nothing from Klein.”
“We’re still working on live deals, but at this point it’s more about professional pride,” said another investment banker. “I’m spending 60% of my time working on this, and 40% doing my CV and reaching out to recruiters.”
At an offsite meeting in New York earlier in March, Klein outlined plans for a Goldman Sachs-style partnership for around 100 of Credit Suisse’s investment bankers, who stood to hold around 20% of the equity in the new venture. As recently as March 14, Körner said that he was “excited” about the CS First Boston spinout, which was aiming to refocus Credit Suisse’s investment bank around so-called capital light activities such as M&A.
Klein was appointed chief executive of banking, head of its Americas operation and CEO designate of CS First Boston in February. He was also offered $175 million via a convertible note for his boutique Michael Klein & Co after a $10 million fee for advising on the investment bank carve out.
Kelleher said that UBS would be “running down the investment banking part of Credit Suisse, because UBS itself has an investment bank with a capital-light model”. Hamers said that it was “really important that we refocus [Credit Suisse’s] investment bank in the way we have refocused our investment bank”.
Credit Suisse has battled an exodus of senior dealmakers since it announced its ties to collapsed family office Archegos Capital in March 2021, with around 80 senior bankers exiting over that time. More recently, a wave of job cuts hit its investment bank globally in February, with 35 cuts in London.
“A lot of us could have left a long time ago, but have made a conscious decision to stay,” said one dealmaker. “It was high risk, but we trusted the changes that were being made, avoided the cuts and were looking to future of the franchise. People might say ‘why bother?’ when bonuses are shrinking and the bank is taking so many hits. But the culture here is better than a lot of Wall Street firms and they treat people with respect.”
The raft of departures continued to have an impact on its dealmaking business. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Credit Suisse currently ranks 19th in the fee league tables, according to data provider Dealogic, down from 10th in 2022. Globally, it ranks 10th, down from seventh place last year.
“From the outside, everyone will be thinking that Credit Suisse made a lot of mistakes and all their good people have left,” said another banker. “But there are people who have been here for 20 years, who have stuck with the bank through its toughest times and are now seeing their futures disappear.”
One senior trader said that cutting 8 billion francs of costs through the merger “clearly means that redundant teams won’t be kept around.”
“I’ve been through the Lehman downturn and experienced the joy of job ‘security’ throughout my career, so it’s just another day in finance really,” they said. “I am more concerned about what’s coming up next for the global economy to be frank… Getting acquired is not the worst thing that could have happened.”
Credit Suisse sent a memo to employees which attempts to answer a number of questions about their future. The bank will still pay bonuses on March 24 it said, as well as pay rises and the cash component of its special ‘transformation award’ put in place to incentivise employees during its overhaul plans.
“Senior bankers are telling us that we should trust the UBS team to assess the high-performers and know who to keep,” said one banker. “But of course, no one is really waiting around for this.”
“We’re getting a lot of reassurances publicly, but privately we’re being told that we’d be mad not to dust off our CV,” said another banker.