ING’s Ralph Hamers named new CEO of UBS

UBS Group AG Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti is stepping down and will be succeeded by current ING Groep NV boss Ralph Hamers, in the latest leadership change at a major European bank.

The Swiss bank, the country’s largest by assets, said Mr. Hamers will join its board in September and become CEO on Nov. 1. Mr. Ermotti, 59 years old, has been UBS’s chief executive since 2011 and was expected to announce his departure this year or next.

UBS Chairman Axel Weber said Mr. Hamers is "the right CEO" to lead the company through changes across the banking industry, as a "seasoned and well-respected banker with proven expertise in digital transformation." He thanked Mr. Ermotti for "adding a successful chapter to the history of this more than 150-year-old bank."

Mr. Hamers, 53, was chosen in lieu of internal candidates at UBS, including Chief Operating Officer Sabine Keller-Busse and newly hired co-head of wealth management Iqbal Khan.

A Dutch national, Mr. Hamers has been at ING since 1991 and became CEO in 2013.

At the time he was starting in the top job, ING was emerging from a yearslong restructuring that saw it sell or exit operations across the globe and return to its roots as a regional lender.

Revenue rose under Mr. Hamers’s tenure but costs also increased as ING was forced to add compliance staff after a record EUR775 million ($890 million) fine in 2018 to settle an investigation by Dutch prosecutors into money laundered by clients through the bank.

ING said Mr. Hamers will remain as CEO until June 30. It didn’t name a successor.

Mr. Hamers in said it was a hard decision to leave the place he where he has worked for 29 years, but he is "honored to get the opportunity to lead an established institution like UBS."

Mr. Ermotti’s departure had been rumored for more than a year and Mr. Weber previously said succession planning was under way. The Swiss-born CEO led UBS through a post-financial-crisis restructuring, pushing its stock price up as he repositioned it as a global wealth manager serving billionaires and entrepreneurs.

The bank’s shares have gained 28% since he started in the job, a better performance than many rivals as Europe’s weak economic growth, regulatory pressures and low interest rates have weighed on the region’s lenders. More recently, UBS has had to lower its financial targets to reflect a worsened economic picture and the effects of persistently low and negative rates in its markets.

On Wednesday, Mr. Ermotti said it is the right time to move on. "UBS is in great shape, enjoys maximum strategic flexibility and is well positioned for sustainable growth," he said.

The naming of Mr. Hamers as the next UBS CEO was first reported by the Financial Times.

The leadership change comes shortly after UBS’s main Swiss rival, Credit Suisse Group AG, ousted its CEO. Tidjane Thiam left Feb. 13 and Credit Suisse’s new CEO, Thomas Gottstein, started on Friday. Credit Suisse’s chairman said on Feb. 7 that the board had lost confidence in Mr. Thiam’s ability to move the bank past a spying scandal that has engulfed the bank since September and triggered a regulatory investigation. The targets of the spying included Mr. Khan, the executive now at UBS.

Mr. Khan left Credit Suisse in July and was hired by UBS in August, to start Oct. 1, 2019. While he was still a Credit Suisse employee in the interim, Credit Suisse’s chief operating officer hired investigators to follow Mr. Khan to make sure he wasn’t trying to poach staff or clients. Mr. Khan spotted a man following him on Sept. 17, triggering a police investigation.

A second spying incident at the bank became public in December, and the bank’s governance around the surveillance is now being studied by Swiss regulators.

Write to Margot Patrick at [email protected]

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