UBS keeps hiring in U.S. M&A, without much to show for it

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The interim head of UBS’ M&A and capital markets business in the Americas has been on the job for less than a month, but that didn’t stop his boss from publicly issuing a fairly large challenge: beef up the M&A team in the U.S. and make it more competitive.

UBS investment banking chief Andrea Orcel told Bloomberg that he is putting together a “very aggressive plan” to grow the firm’s investment banking business in the U.S., with a particular focus on M&A. A source told Bloomberg that the bank hopes to double the number of senior client-facing bankers in the Americas over the next three to five years.

Much of that responsibility is likely to fall to Sam Kendall, who replaced Joe Reece just last month as the head of corporate client solutions for the Americas at UBS after Reece abruptly resigned after only five months on the job.

Kendall, who still retains the interim title, has a large task on his hands. UBS has continued to tumble down M&A league tables in the Americas over the last five years, despite an earlier promise from Ancel to concentrate more efforts on M&A in the U.S. The decline came even after UBS poached six senior M&A bankers from competing firms in early 2015, including a three-person team from Evercore.

If UBS doubles its client-facing bankers in America it will surely be hoping for more tangible results. In the first quarter of 2013, UBS ranked fifth in U.S. M&A revenue, raking in over $219 million in fees, representing a 16% market share, according to data compiled by Dealogic. UBS has fallen at least one notch down the league tables every year since. In the first quarter of 2016, UBS dropped to 13th, bringing in just $161 million in revenue. This past quarter, the Swiss bank dropped all the way down to 30th, according to Dealogic.

The good news for Kendall and recruiters at UBS is that the bank should be able to make competitive offers for senior staffers. Among its 707 global “key risk takers,” of whom you would have to assume include at least some senior M&A bankers, UBS paid out an average of $1,970,100 in 2017, up from $1,810,538 a year earlier. However, 623 of the 707 of those key risk takers worked in London in 2017. UBS may have to sweeten the pot in the U.S. to achieve its desired results.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Sam Kendall has made news. He reportedly threatened to quit his job at UBS in 2011 to join Bank of America, only to receive a counter office from the Swiss bank to remain on board, Reuters reported at the time. UBS didn't immediately respond to an inquiry about its plans.

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