UBS Wealth Management Americas Chief Executive Robert McCann shot down rumors of a possible acquisition by Wells Fargo & Co. and reaffirmed UBS AG’s commitment to that unit in a Bloomberg Television interview Thursday.
“I can tell you that it isn’t true,” McCann said. “I can tell you that I have not been part of any meeting with Wells Fargo and I can tell you that [Oswald] Gruebel and I have been incredibly consistent in any place we’ve talked or written about this. This is an important part of UBS. It’s an important part of our platform in the Americas and we like the wealth management business globally. It’s an important part of who and what UBS is.”
McCann’s statement comes after rumors have persisted that Wells Fargo could potentially acquire UBS’ U.S. wealth management business. UBS has repeatedly denied those rumors.
The industry chatter comes as Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf has openly stated that the firm is interested in seeking acquisitions for its currently “sub-optimized” wealth management business. Wells Fargo declined to comment on those rumors this week.
Wells Fargo could easily purchase the UBS business, industry observers have said, most recently with a May 13 analyst report from Keefe, Bruyette and Woods that said that the acquisition of UBS’ U.S. wealth business would be “one of the best fits within Wells’ long-term expansion strategy.”
Since the crisis, UBS has instead been focused on boosting the strength of that business, McCann said, which includes making it more attractive to advisors. The financial advisor turnover has moved from 17.5% in 2009 to 4.3% now, he said. UBS had 6,811 U.S. financial advisors as of the end of the first quarter.“We had a hard time holding onto financial advisors,” McCann said. “That is no longer the case.”
But as UBS’ U.S. wealth management unit continues to improve quarterly, the business could be an acquisition target for an even better price at the end of the year, said Alois Pirker, research director at financial services research firm Aite Group.
“I think proving that you can perform over three, four quarters and show consistent growth will definitely help them to negotiate a good price,” Pirker said. “We’ve seen one quarter at least that was good, and so if the year unfolds similarly, then I think it’s decision time towards the end of the year.”