UBS is banking on Annie Leibovitz to make a difference to the group's image


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The Independent Online

It’s delicious. UBS, a controversial bank that has had a great deal of trouble with managing its money, has hired Annie Leibovitz, a sometimes controversial celebrity photographer who… well you can guess the next bit.

UBS’s rap sheet includes racking up the biggest annual loss in Swiss corporate history in 2008, having written down close to $50bn (£33bn) due to its disastrous dalliance with US sub-prime loans.

Since then, it has been slashing and burning in an attempt to steady the ship and to find the money to pay a succession of huge fines levied by regulators for its involvement in the fixing of foreign exchange and Libor interest rates. 

Ms Leibovitz’s travails might appear pale by comparison, but they’re still colourful. There have been loans arranged at eye- popping interest rates from organisations such as “Art Capital” and “Colony Capital”. Not to mention the fees charged by the middlemen who set up the deals, and then sued with a view to getting paid. 

With a record like that, you might think UBS would run a mile. It positively screams “sub-prime”, sorry, “high-risk”.

But you might also wonder at Ms Leibovitz’s motivation. After all, her portfolio includes the Queen, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Rolling Stones and, erm, Miley Cyrus. Her picture of the latter at 15, wrapped in a bed sheet and apparently topless, at one point looked like it might create a financial disaster for Disney by torpedoing the hugely profitable Hannah Montana franchise then fronted by the starlet.

It is highly unlikely that the fruit of Ms Leibovitz’s union with UBS – a series of photos of previously unknown entrepreneurs alongside such questions as “Am I really making a difference?” – will stand alongside that lot either in terms of controversy or cultural relevance.

But Ms Leibovitz presumably needs the money. And UBS badly needs help with its image. These birds of a feather might be in a marriage of convenience but they do rather need each other.