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The wonders of working for UBS

It’s lost a packet on dodgy trades, ‘shaken up’ its prop trading division, and plans to pay high stock bonuses. Who wants to work there?

Lots of people, according to everything we’ve ever written on UBS. Once when we addressed the subject a loyal employee declared himself willing to pledge his allegiance to the bank even if it didn’t pay a bonus – which is fortunate, given this may well come to pass.

What’s the source of such devotion? According to the comment-leaver, it’s all down to the Swiss bank’s work-life balance, but we’ve been doing a little digging and it appears there’s more to it than that.

Part of the appeal appears to be the presence of old people. “I joined from a US bank less than a year ago,” says one bond trader, “and on my part of the floor there’s a huge amount of experience that you just don’t get at US houses, which churn and burn staff.”

All those grey hairs apparently make for a ‘friendlier’ working environment and greater camaraderie. “It’s a very, very nice place to work,” he exudes.

The question is, therefore, can this niceness survive redundancies and a shake-up which includes a reduction in prop trading and the combination of debt and equity underwriting operations?

Nice no more

Maybe not. According to one headhunter who works with the bank, the culture in the all-important equities division is already changing for the worse: “Historically, they were all nice to each other, but that changed when Alex Easton left. It’s become a lot more aggressive and commercial.”

Jason Kennedy, managing director of search firm Kennedy Associates, says UBS is easier to pull people out of than it used to be: “There’s been a shift – before, it was a nice place to work, people believed in the company, and the ethos was that you were at a top-tier firm that was not too aggressive and not too passive.”

Since Peter Wuffli left in July, Kennedy says there’s been a loss of morale: “And bonuses paid substantially in stock aren’t going to help that.”

Comments (38)

  1. Pssst….any jobs ??

  2. I worked for UBS in the past and not only was it a great place to work, it was one of the best on the Street when it came to getting things done. I have also worked for US houses that are hyper-political and super aggressive, breeding a culture of achievement aversion ( why stick your neck out and do something different when all you have to do is manage upwards). The UBS culture I recall was always clean and professional, I hope they don’t just slavishly copy the US cultural model, trapping themselves in a mire of politics and paralysis by numbers.

  3. You’ve all doing a wonderful job…

    Young Mr Grace Reply
  4. In time after the current restructuring UBS will be back in the premier league of Investment Banking, even after all of this mess they still have the franchise,expertise and most importantly deep pockets to compete again.

  5. UBS is a great company to work for – but as always it depends on the management of your department. I joined UBS over a year ago and in terms of culture it has not lived up to it’s reputation

  6. It isn’t called Useless Bank of Switzerland for nothing you know…

  7. i hear there are a lot of very grim-faced folk still hanging about late on a friday night. as a result, they have locked all stationary cupboards and told staff to be extra vigilant with their umbrellas.

  8. UBS claim that they are the only bank that puts U before the BS. Having been there for 2 years, this is rubbish and from my experience they are not much different to an american bank. The only difference is that they lack the deal flow of top tier american houses so their lack of comparitive work load is perhaps the reason for the false perception of a work life balance there.

    All banks are the same. People talk so much about culture and teamwork but when it comes down to it none of this actually matters.

    Ex UBS Trader/Structurer Reply
  9. I have said it before and I will say it again -I would work for UBS without a bonus on 25/1. They may not pay as much as Goldmans but they offer a fantastic work life balance, a good vibrant working culture. They reward you for hard work and are understanding when you need time off.

    The chasing pack (the other IBs) will be chasing for a long time. The leviathan in Liverpool St is head and shoulders above the prentenders to the thrown.

    Its U and US against the rest of the City and Docklands.

  10. When I joined UBS, I knew the bonuses would not be as great as other American banks I had worked at, but I was attracted to the “work life balance”. However, over the last two years I’ve been made to work much harder for far less remuneration. At least at American banks they are more upfront.

  11. When people talk about the culture at UBS, it is easy to forget UBS has many of the same problems as its American peers. Personnel issues are not treated any more sympathetically. With any bank there will always be issues with bullying, discrimination etc. But UBS does not seem to handle them any better than the Americans. I feel UBS trades on its reputation to make employees believe they are getting some intangible which never materialises

    Unhappy at UBS Reply
  12. Are they still doing luncheon vouchers ?

  13. I left UBS…it wasn’t neither friendly nor professional…frustration this is the best word that described that place…my boss didn’t gave me the garden leave and in the meanwhile called all the clients with whom i worked with and said that they were laying me off instead that i was leaving…are you sure that it’s so friendly and amusing?

  14. i once went to UBS to attend a derivative conference hosted by UBS. As i exited the lift and headed towards the conference room, i noticed a strong waft of urine. Parked by the doorway to the room was a shedload of wheelchairs and inside a huge number of very elderly people – some with zimmer frames, some hobbling with sticks, some obviously incontinent, some confused and indeed some lying prostrate on beds. “These people”, I was reliably informed (with a hint of pride) “are our brightest and best employees…”

  15. What’s best: follow the policy or assess risks? That’s the question some people over there should ask themselves.

  16. Currently working at UBS in London and I can say that Equities has improved with Alex Easton’s replacement. The European equities business is a lot more focued.

    Regarding the work life balance, that depends entirely on your team. I work longer hours at UBS than I did at DB however I do have colleagues who leave by 5pm. UBS is also one of the few places left where it is still possible to move from back to front office.

  17. Would you consider UBS as Bulge Bracket or 2nd Tier for IBD, DCM, ECM?

  18. No, but I would consider it as a highly suitable home for the elderly.

  19. bonkum….. one of the worst… staffed by people with a massive chip on there shoulder because they are not at GS.

  20. UBS is in a lot of trouble with the subprime crisis. It is not surprising they will try to find ways to lay off staff without paying redundancy, relying on performance grounds or misconduct etc. UBS may have been a great place to work, but it is every man for himself nowadays. Risk management is not particularly strong and it is easy to challenge many of their decisions – don’t expect to be treated fairly. UBS need to start thinking longer term about the impact of their current treatment of employees will have on their brand

    Undisclosed UBS employee Reply
  21. i am in m&a and u can look at the league tables to see that it is number 1 in the UK and number 2 in europe over the last year (www.thomson.com)…along with that one of the best places to work…i had 5 offers but chose UBS due to people!!

  22. I worked for UBS for a year after having worked for a US Investment Bank in London. More than work-life balance, I admired the friendly and discussion-oriented culture at the bank. This helped in enhancing an individual’s exposure to projects other than his/her’s own.

  23. UBS has a lot of internal problems. There are too many people that are not doing their job..yet they are repeatedly rewarded because they are politically aligned. It has massive manual intervention processes because it has failed to make an investment in its back office and financial systems. I agree…do no expect to be treated fairly.

    I’m so over UBS Reply
  24. When I joined UBS two years ago I was impressed with the inclusive culture of the employee networks. However, more recently having witnessed the type of bullying and discrimination which happens in my own team, I have come to realise that these networks are more a sign that UBS know they have certain personnel problems. Diversity is a noble business objective for UBS to champion, but there is no real penetration of this strategy into the business groups. Some managers have definitely not embraced UBS’ Diversity strategy, which should be targeted at the dominant group to encourage acceptance of differences in minority groups. The culture of many teams at this Swiss Bank is much like a US Bank except UBS are not so good at respecting employee rights. US Banks have better risk management and tend to follow clear procedures, incorporating legal protection for employees such as “Dignity at Work”, age/gender/sexual orientation discrimination etc. When faced with the problem of a high revenue generating, but bullying and discriminatory manager, UBS are good at directing the victimized employee to the door. On the surface UBS is a great place to work, but don’t look too closely!

    Another unhappy UBS employee Reply
  25. Saba, You were in Risk management and you had access to other people’s projects?! haven’t U(BS) heard of chinese walls? nick leeson/barings and keivel/SocGen both had access to risk management and front offices :P

  26. What is Diversity and why does UBS champion it? The story goes that a major shareholder commented that UBS while currently a major force in banking had no sustainability. So UBS has tried to encourage recruitment from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and orientations. The problem with the Diversity strategy is that it is only focused on recruitment. As an woman, I definitely feel my career prospects would be enhanced if I were a white, male banker with no shelf life

    Diversity Champion, UBS Reply
  27. sorry to say this, but on the evidence i have seen so far in banking, i think that as a “white, male” banker, my career propsects would be better if i was the exact opposite.

  28. I’ve read the debate with interest. PC Collins do you think it is really easier for minorities in banking or are you arguing that everyone gets treated equally badly? I see the point that women definitely face glass ceiling issues even nowadays. What’s your experience as a male banker? Do you think there is too many initiatives to increase representation of minorities and not enough support for the average banker?

  29. Out of curiosity, do you think it is really harder for “white, male” bankers? You still hear that women are paid less and from a networking perspective not being part of the same culture can make career advancement more difficult. The City is definitely opening up to Diversity, but more could be done to create a more inclusive culture for everyone – including “white, male” bankers

  30. UBS does have a good reputation for encouraging people from Diverse backgrounds and being a great place to work. But it does depend on your team and your manager. I’ve worked at UBS for almost 2yrs and being in my early thirties I do find my career opportunities are slowing down. I think for women a lot depends on having a supportive manager who is willing to continue investing in you, through out the employee life cycle. It’s tough but you do need to find ways to prove to your manager you will continue to bring value to the company, even if you do decide to go and have a family. What’s tougher still is the unspoken assumption that you will want a family and hence a career break…

    Anonymous, UBS Reply
  31. So how do companies get a reputation for being a great place to work? :-)

  32. UBS is not a company which can afford to pay the salary levels of its American peers, so strategically seeks to develop employee loyalty through Branding itself as a Great Place to Work. But businesses in any sector have to be ruthless with costs when the company is making HUGE losses. You often hear of companies firing staff for claimed misconduct or tenuous performance grounds to avoid redundancy payments. For an uninformed employee this approach can be devastating at a personal level, but it’s just business. There is no loyalty in banking or any other sector. But the concern with UBS is that employees have been encouraged to believe they are valued and it can be a shock when UBS acts contrary to its reputation. Is UBS a wolf in sheep’s clothing or are we as employees too naive about the compensation strategy? Either way, UBS need to consider the long term impact on the brand and employee loyalty….

    Undisclosed, still at UBS (for the moment) :-) Reply
  33. Many good analysts have left the research floor over the last 2 years for greener pastures. The IT systems are dynsfunctional, senior management push paper all day long and there is no such thing as nurturing the future leaders of the business anymore. Vacant junior positions are outsourced to Hyderabad. How the mighty have fallen…

    Will be leaving UBS post bonus payout Reply
  34. I’ve been with the bank for nearly 3 years. I’ve often been told by the Swiss office that London staff earn significantly more than over there, because London has a higher cost of living. So the Swiss have much better benefits to offset this. Having been promoted I now know that the Swiss salaries are in line with London, if not actually a bit higher in terms of cash comp before benefits. There are many misconceptions about the “compensation strategy” at UBS, which causes a lot of tension in working relations between staff based in different regions. UBS needs to send a clear message that there aren’t big regional differences in salary. It would definitely help create a more friendly working environment for London staff

    Annoyed at UBS Reply
  35. “Diary of a Redundancy” is a very good article I once read on efinancial. It discussed submitting a Data Protection Act request to your old employer to find out the reason you were cut. UBS are notoriously bad at providing access to employee files. You do feel quite led down by the company. Once they decide to cut you, don’t expect them to be nice in any way

    Redundant from UBS Reply
  36. i have a offer from ubs..in the comodities group…i wud welcome ur advise on if i should take the offer or not

    prospective UBS employee Reply
  37. An offer from UBS? I’d check and confirm that this is still on offer. Then I’d contact other banks and ask them if they can offer you anything better. If nothing else was available, then take the job at UBS and leave for greener pastures asap.

  38. I used to think I’d work for UBS when hell froze over. Now that Luqman Arnold’s tilting at the cuckoo clocks on his white charger, I think I could be persuaded….for a very large sum.

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