Clive Standish is Zurich-bound as CFO of UBS. During his time as CEO of Asia, UBS has been transformed. Here he and investment banking head, Peter Burnett talk about some of the changes.
Is your leaving the region a loss for Asia?
Standish: Not really. On our group executive board I will represent Asia. I actually feel it is positive, since I will be interacting with other group board members and having a seat at the table and my talking about Asia is very useful from the perspective of our regional business - particularly in terms of strategic initiatives and deploying credit in the region. Sometimes when you are a long way away from Asia-Pacific it is not always easy for people to get the right story.
Will you be replaced in your CEO role?
No. There are a range of people who run the businesses, such as Peter in investment banking, Brad Orgill in equities, Kathy Shih in private banking. The great thing is it is a management team that has been around for quite a long time. We are one of the most integrated operations around and it shows in the results.
And actually we didn't have a CEO in Asia until just after the merger between UBS and SBC. At that time it really required someone to start pulling things together. But now we have a cohesive management team it is not quite so compelling.
You are about to go back to headquarters. How does HQ view China and what is the overarching China strategy?
First of all, the group views Asia Pacific as the area of the world that will provide the greatest amount of growth for us - although not necessarily the greatest amount of money. So the whole area is viewed very positively.
Within that the two areas that we feel will outperform for us are Japan and Greater China. We have a good platform in Japan. In terms of China we feel that post-WTO we have great opportunities in institutional asset management, wealth management and investment banking. We would like to think we will be a participant in the domestic market there as it develops. This requires a joint venture, and we are looking very closely at that.
What have been the highlights in your time as head of Asia?
The highlight in the past four years has clearly been creating a leading position in ECM and DCM. We took the best people from the old Swiss Bank and UBS and created an enduring franchise.
The highlight was having a commitment to Asia when lots of other people didn't. When the Asian crisis happened we didn't go and blow away half our staff like a lot of firms. That is something we should all be quite proud of.
In the last decade the top spot in equity broking was always held by a given firm for a couple of years and then it rotated to someone else. You have held the mantle as Asia's top equity broker for longer than most. Why?
Burnett: It comes down to what Clive was just saying. What was critical was to stay engaged while others were pulling out, in places such as Thailand. That was the right decision. We weren't just seen as coming in for the ride in the good times, but we had a view, and when institutions came back to those markets we were there and we were the ones who flagged those views to them. I am sure that's one of the reasons why our Thai business is number one. We stayed there and we offered an execution service to investors.
And I have spoken to competitors and institutional investors and they all say it is now not a question of who is first in the [secondary] equity business now, but who is second and third because we are so far ahead. On the investment banking side that is an enormous advantage. There is a recognition that UBS has the best distribution. It means you've got engage us if you want your shares well distributed.
Likewise, we also have a top notch fixed income business. Stephen Cheng is the top rated credit analyst and we have been executing a lot of deals in Indonesia and the Philippines on the high yield side.
What's your strategy on M&A?
Burnett: We want to look at M&A holistically. We want to do it when we can combine it with a capital markets trade. Actually, the M&A pipeline is very healthy.
Thinking about the big picture again, when you look at the position Asia is in now with its strengthening currencies and strengthening corporate earnings, do you think we are in a period that is the inverse of the Asian crisis - ie that we are looking at a decent period for the region?
Standish: I reckon we are. Going around the world and talking to people and seeing how they view Asia, that is clearly the view that I sense is forming. They see high growth prospects and I think people are starting to form a 10 or 15 year view and conclude that this is where it is going to happen in terms of growth.
Burnett: There have been some changes. Corporate governance has improved, and if you cast your mind back to 1997 everyone was saying Asian currencies were overvalued and now they're saying they're all undervalued and it is just not fair. It's all highly political and about appealing to voters.
If you are a dollar-based investor, the region must look especially appealing as you have equity upside plus potential currency upside to enhance the returns.
Burnett: That is definitely the case when you look at Korea and Taiwan.