UBS chief executive Ralph Hamers, whose priority until now was to invest in digital technology, will have to decide whether his bank takes over all or part of its struggling rival.
Credit Suisse boss Ulrich Koerner knows UBS inside out and may be able to use that to smooth the negotiations, even if until now he had been determined to plough on with a restructuring plan for his bank he launched in October.
Hamers, a 56-year-old Dutchman, has been in the hot seat at UBS since November 2020.
He built up a solid reputation at ING, taking over when the Dutch bank was having trouble repaying a state bailout of €10 billion extended during the global financial crisis.
Under his stewardship, ING finally repaid its loans seven months before the deadline.
But under his watch, ING also had to settle a €775-million laundering probe with Dutch authorities in 2018 after it failed to ensure that people were not hiding cash used for illegal purposes in its accounts.
Hamers took over at UBS from Sergio Ermotti, now chairman of the reinsurer Swiss Re.
Ermotti had spent nine years restoring UBS’s reputation after its bailout by the Swiss government and the central bank in 2008, as well as the $2.3 billion in losses racked up by a rogue trader in 2011.
Ermotti handed over the UBS keys with the bank in good condition, giving Hamers the room to launch the next phase in its growth: turning it towards digital technology, which had been one of his main achievements at ING.
But Hamers has suffered some setbacks. Last year, UBS had to give up on the $1.4 billion acquisition of Wealthfront, an automated investment service firm based in California.
The plan fell through but Hamers, running a bank which generated a profit of $7.6 billion last year, has continued to invest in digital.
Hamers regularly appears without a tie and with his shirt collar open, a far cry from the austere uniform adopted by most bankers in Zurich.
Koerner, 60, became chief executive of Credit Suisse in August 2022. He moved into the top job after tackling its asset management division following the bankruptcy of British financial firm Greensill, in which the bank had committed some $10 billion.
Koerner, who holds a doctorate degree in economics, began his career with the consulting firm McKinsey.
He later worked at Credit Suisse in various roles between 1998 and 2009, notably directing activities for the Swiss market, before moving to UBS until 2020.
The German and Swiss national returned to Credit Suisse in 2021, tasked with turning around the asset management business after the Greensill affair.
Koerner had already distinguished himself by his ability to carry out restructuring programmes. As head of operations at UBS, he transformed core functions at the headquarters “like a machine”, noted the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper.
He unveiled a restructuring programme for Credit Suisse at the end of October, planning to hive off the investment bank and refocus the group on more stable activities such as wealth management.
The plan included 9,000 job cuts by 2025, which would reduce the workforce by 17 percent.
On Tuesday, on the eve of the bank’s worst-ever day on the stock exchange, Koerner urged investors to give him three years, as planned, to implement the overhaul and see it bear fruit.
But with an annual loss of 7.3 billion Swiss francs last year and further losses predicted for 2023, investors were unconvinced, prompting the Swiss central bank to extend an emergency loan of 50 billion Swiss francs (€54 billion).