UBS AG (NYSE:UBS) chief financial officer will meet the activist investor Knight Vinke Asset Management LLC next week, people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal. The New York-based activist investor has been pushing for a breakup of UBS’s investment banking division.
Before UBS AG (NYSE:UBS)’s annual meeting, Knight Vinke demanded in an open letter that the Swiss lender’s investment banking unit be separated from its core retail banking and wealth management operations to lower the risk and unlock shareholder value. The meeting between Tom Naratil and Knight Vinke Asset Management LLC will come almost a month after the New York-based investor, which owns about 1 percent of UBS, initiated the call for a breakup.
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Tom Naratil meets a number of investors every quarter to discuss developments and get their feedback. Sources said that the next week’s meeting between the two parties is preliminary, and it is unlikely bank management will give a green signal to Knight Vinke’s proposals.
Investment Banking Nearly Destroyed UBS
Knight Vinke argued that the ownership of investment banking unit almost destroyed UBS during the 2008 financial crisis, and now it should be transferred to employees and managers. During the financial crisis, the investment banking unit incurred over $50 billion in losses on credit bets. That forced UBS AG (NYSE:UBS) to seek a government bailout. Another setback occurred in 2011 when a rogue trader at its London offices made an unauthorized trade that resulted into $2.3 billion losses.
The unauthorized trade forced former CEO Oswald Gruebel to resign from his post. The activist investors are likely to raise questions over why the bank is focusing on its investment arm when it contributes to less than 10 percent of the Swiss bank’s total value.
The new CEO of UBS AG (NYSE:UBS), Sergio Ermotti last year said that he will shift the investment banking unit’s focus on money management and reduce debt trading to alleviate risk and boost profitability. Ermotti had considered the option of selling the investment arm before deciding on the current plan. He also announced to lay off 10,000 employees, mostly from investment banking, over the next three to five years.
UBS AG (NYSE:UBS) shares were up 0.28 percent to $17.99 at 9:48AM EDT.