Swiss banks reveal their dirty secrets – MoneyWeek

Andtheresyetmorepainontheway:EuropesbiggestUSsubprimecasualtyconfirmedlastweekthatadditionalheavyhits(upto$7。

5bnaccordingtotheFT)areonthecards。

Andthebanksreputation?

Gone。

Overthepast12months,whatwasoncetheepitomeofaserious,solidSwissbankinghousehasturnedintoasymbolofgreedandexcessandbecomeabywordforhubrisintheworldoffastmoney,saysLukasHassiginTheDailyTelegraph。

UBSscultureandreputationforprudencehasbeencorrodedbytheshort-termrichesonofferduringthegoodtimes。

Whatwerethedirectorsthinking?

Theywereasleeponthejob。

InMay2002,Zurich-basedriskmanagersreportedthatthebanksexposuretoABStotalledsome$25bn,oneofthebiggestbooksonWallStreetandalmostequaltothebanksentireCHF44bncapital。

Butalow-keyreactionfromseniormanagementconsignedthereporttothetopshelf,andon13October2004,UBSproudlyannouncedithadbecomeoneofthebiggestABSplayersintheworld。

Anditdidntstopthere。

PriortohisAprildeparture,ex-chairmanMarcelOspeladmittedthatmuchofthecrisisstemmedfromsecuritiesbasedonmortgageswhichwereissuedfrom2006to2007,towardstheendofthecreditcyclewhenUSmortgagelendershadloweredtheirstandardstoofarandsuppliedcreditstodebtorswithapoorcreditrating。

WhatisUBSdoingaboutit?

UBShasbeenonabalance-sheetbolsteringtrailthisyearandhasmanagedtoraisesome$28bnsofar。

Ithasalsoclearedouttheboard。

ThreedirectorshavebeendumpedandnewchairmanPeterKurertoldtheFThewantedtostrengthentheboardwithindependentfigureswithtop-classfinancialorauditexperience。

ThelatestrumoursarethatthebanksUSwealth-managementdivision,PaineWebber,istobeunloaded。

AlthoughPWwouldcertainlyfetchlessthanthe$12bnUBSpaidforitin2000,andprobablyevenlessthanthe$6。

6bnbookvalue,saysJeffreyGoldfarbonBreakingviews。

com,thebankcouldusetheextracash。

Andasittypicallyaccountsforjust5%ofUBSsprofits,PWmightbeadistractionthebankcoulddowithout。

CanallthisrestoreUBSsreputation?

Probablynot。

Alreadytherearereportsofhigh-net-worthindividualsshiftingtheirmoneyintosmallerboutiquestheyconsidermoresecure。

CitigroupanalystJeremySigeereckonsthatoverCHF11bnwaswithdrawnfromUBSswealth-managementunitinthesecondquarterof2008,saysBloomberg。

Andwhiletheboardshake-upmayhelpaddresscriticismsofthebankscorporategovernance,restoringconfidencewilltakemorethanmanagementchange。

Thebankneedsafreshstartwithtoughercontrolsandamoveawayfromtradersnotchingupbigbonusesfromoversizedbets,saysMikeVerdinofBreakingviews。

com。

AndevennowUBSsreputationistakinganothernastyhit。

TheUSInternalRevenueService(IRS),suspectingUBSofhelpingaffluentAmericanstoevadetax(seebelow),hassummonsedthebankforSwiss-basedaccountdetailsofAmericantaxpayers。

UBSmaynowsayitisworkingdiligentlywithSwissandUSauthorities。

ButafightwiththeIRScombinedwiththereleaseofthisinformationcoulddoevenmoredamagethanallthewrite-offsputtogether:itputstheveryfutureofSwissbankingsecrecyunderthreat。

Themantakingthetaxrap

FormerUBSbankerBradleyC。

BirkenfeldhasbeenthefirsttosufferfromtheIRScrackdownonUBS。

From2002to2006helookedafterUSclientswithundeclaredoffshoreaccountswithUBS。

MorerecentlyhewaschargedintheUSwithhelpingbillionaireIgorOlenicoffevademillionsofdollarsoftaxes。

Lastmonthhepleadedguiltyandinhistestimony–which,saysTheNewYorkTimes,readslikeahow-toofhigh-endtaxevasion–blewSwissbankingsecrecyskyhigh。

Thinkpilesofcashstashedinsafedepositboxes,diamondssmuggledintoothpastetubesanddestroyedbankingrecords。

Olenicoffhaspleadedguiltytofilingafalsetaxreturn。

Butheprobablywontbethelast。

BirkenfieldhadnumerousUSclients。

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