ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s biggest bank UBS on Thursday appointed former Credit Suisse manager Iqbal Khan to co-lead its flagship wealth management business, as part of a broader shake-up of its executive board.
The appointment of Khan alongside two internal promotions mark a significant revamp for the bank as it seeks fresh talent for its CEO succession planning efforts and drums up enthusiasm for its core business in an increasingly challenging landscape.
Khan, a former head of Credit Suisse International Wealth Management and a rising star considered a CEO candidate in the future, will replace Martin Blessing as UBS wealth management co-head alongside U.S. counterpart Tom Naratil.
Suni Harford, a Citigroup veteran who joined UBS in 2017, was promoted from her current role as head of investment at the asset management business to leading the entire division. She replaces Uelrich Koerner.
“I’m looking forward to having Suni and Iqbal join the Group Executive Board,” Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti said in a statement. “They are great additions to the team and will help us drive sustainable growth and profitability for UBS.”
In addition, Chief Operating Officer Sabine Keller-Busse will take on the additional role of president of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region from Koerner.
After benefiting from a shift to the traditionally steady wealth management business years ahead of rival Credit Suisse, UBS has been hit by a slew of troubles in recent years.
They range from cash hoarding by wealthy clients to a multi-billion euro legal fight in France, prompting questions on whether it might need to refresh its strategy as banks come under pressure from geopolitical turmoil and low interest rates.
With Ermotti in the CEO role since 2011 and Chairman Axel Weber leading the non-executive board since 2012, speculation over succession planning has been on the rise.
The appointment of Khan, 43, should take pressure off management to present a long-term prospect. Keller-Busse and Naratil are also seen as candidates for the role.
Khan quit Credit Suisse in July “to pursue other opportunities”, with sources saying he was mulling roles at UBS, Julius Baer and a U.S. bank, with the long-term goal of procuring a top job as CEO.
Under Khan, Credit Suisse’s newly created International Wealth Management unit boosted profitability and revenues as Switzerland’s second-biggest bank underwent a major overhaul, whittling down its investment bank and refashioning itself as a bank for wealthy entrepreneurs.
“We welcome the appointments of Iqbal Khan and Suni Harford (effective 1 October 2019) and believe the market will take the rejuvenation of UBS’s Group Executive Board well,” Vontobel analyst Andreas Venditti wrote in a note.
“Iqbal Khan clearly has a strong track record, boosting Credit Suisse International Wealth Management’s adjusted pre-tax profit by almost 80% in 3 years.”
UBS stock rose 1.4% by 0840 GMT while the European bank sector index gained 0.9%.
Blessing, a former Commerzbank head who joined UBS in 2016, will remain with the bank through December, while asset management head Koerner will become an adviser to Ermotti through at least March.
Additional reporting by Angelika Gruber, editing by Deepa Babington