Soaring bonus payments push up staff costs by 17% at UBS

Soaring bonus payments were behind a 17 per cent rise in staff costs last year at Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), the giant Swiss banking group.

UBS, which has a large investment banking, asset management and private banking operation in the UK, said performance and profit-related bonuses were considerably higher than in 1995 because the bank had produced a good operating result.

The bank reported a Sfr348m (pounds 146m) loss for the year, which was expected because UBS said last year it would take a special provision of Sfr4.4bn for future credit risks. Without those charges, UBS would have reported a 7 per cent increase in profits, to about SFr1.8bn.

In the UK, UBS is well known for its fund management group PDFM, run by Tony Dye, which last year lagged its competitors after moving out of shares just before the index headed for record levels.

A UBS official insisted yesterday that PDFM had remained very profitable during the year and had continued to attract new clients.

Mathis Cabiallavetta, chief executive of UBS, nevertheless admitted that PDFM had lagged behind the competition in 1996 because of a strict implementation of its "value investment style." This resulted in disappointing results across the globe in 1996, and an over-cautious valuation of the US market.

Unlike many other banking groups, UBS does not want to become a global investment bank. Instead it plans to take a more selective approach to investment banking.

"We want to focus our efforts particularly on the expansion of our asset management business both at home and abroad ... Obviously an acquisition is a step that cannot be ruled out entirely," Mr Cabiallavetta said.

The bank has tracked down rightful owners for around a third of the SFr10m in dormant World War Two-era accounts, which Jewish groups believe may belong to Holocaust victims. But around Sfr3.5m came from two accounts held by people who died shortly after the war, and were not victims of the Holocaust.

Mr Cabiallavetta said the bank was committed to working with an independent panel set up by Swiss bankers and Jewish groups last May.

"It must be said, however, that it is unlikely that any vast amounts to be distributed to any potential heirs of Holocaust victims will be uncovered," he said.

From May 1, the group will adopt the initials UBS as a global brand rather than spelling out its full name or using its German-language name as it has traditionally done in Switzerland. It is the second of the country's three big banks to change its brand name.

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