UBS has sounded out former Bank of America investment banking boss Christian Meissner about taking a senior role at the Swiss lender that could put him in line to succeed chief executive Sergio Ermotti.
Mr Meissner and UBS have been in touch, but a person familiar with the situation said discussions were at a “very early stage” and his ultimate interest in the role was unclear. Mr Meissner had not yet met the UBS board, had not been offered a specific job and discussions could take several further months, they said.
UBS has accelerated its succession planning after its own investment banking head and top CEO candidate Andrea Orcel left in September to become chief executive of Spain’s Banco Santander, following the departure of wealth management boss Jürg Zeltner in December 2017.
After being bailed out in the financial crisis, Switzerland’s biggest bank has reorientated itself away from financial market trading in favour of expanding its wealth management unit.
The UBS role would be a return to favour for Mr Meissner, who stepped down from his role at BofA in September after the investment bank started to lose ground to rivals in businesses such as merger advisory.
He was also unhappy after having a dispute with BofA’s top executives about the US bank’s overly cautious risk appetite for deals after it made a $292m loss on loans made to South African retailer Steinhoff, which was engulfed in a corruption scandal.
A spokesman for UBS declined to comment on the approach to Meissner and reiterated what executives have previously said in public about succession.
If Mr Meissner is offered and accepts a job he would have to battle the current top internal candidates, including the wealth unit’s co-heads Martin Blessing and Tom Naratil, to win the CEO position. It is also not yet known whether he would take over the investment bank. UBS named advisory banker Piero Novelli and head of equities Robert Karofsky as Mr Orcel’s joint replacements last year.
However, Mr Ermotti may not be letting go any time soon. UBS Chairman Axel Weber said in an interview with a German magazine last year that he would like to stay in his position alongside his CEO until at least 2022, and has said the bank has a strong internal talent bench.
If Mr Meissner takes the job, it would be a comfort to UBS’s investment bankers who have been fearing for their future after the departure of Mr Orcel, the Financial Times reported last year. Mr Orcel was a powerful advocate for the division, shielding it from deeper cuts, and his fellow senior bankers have been worried resources and clients would disappear along with the Italian dealmaker.