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Is UBS about to lose all its private bankers?

Eighteen of their brethren made a dash for the exit last week. And several of those remaining are said to have left for Merrill Lynch, Rothschild and Credit Suisse. Are the remaining 300 or so UBS ‘wealth advisors’ in the UK about to follow them out of the door?

Not according to a leading wealth management headhunter (who prefers to go unnamed). Despite the tribulations at the Swiss bank – $38bn of writedowns and the defection of 18 UK-based private bankers to Vestra Wealth – he says UBS still looks like a good bet.

“When you really look at the options, most other banks also have problems right now – you could go to Coutts, but RBS is about to make a mess of its right issue. You could go to Barclays Wealth, but even Barclays isn’t looking that great. I’d say now’s not even that great a time to go to a start-up like Vestra.”

According to this pro-UBS slant on events, last week’s Vestra escapees were merely the remains of the Laing & Cruickshank cohort, 80 of whom left for Cheviot Asset Management in 2006.

“These people were never really assimilated properly in the first place,” says the headhunter.

UBS’s Q1 results suggest it’s been adding staff in wealth management – headcount increased by 2,508 or 5% between Q107 and Q108. At the same time, it appears to be paying less for them – personnel expenses were down 5% in the first quarter.

“UBS bonuses last year weren’t that bad, but there’s a feeling that 2008-09 payments won’t be that good,” says another specialist headhunter, who also wished to remain unnamed. “A lot of people there are putting feelers out to establish what’s going on in the market.”

He adds that key people in the wealth management business are being offered retention packages to stay on – anything from an increased share of revenues to guaranteed bonuses.

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