A sign sits illuminated above the entrance to the UBS Group AG headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg)

UBS Weighs Asset Management Deals in Quest for Scale

(Bloomberg) -- UBS Group AG is weighing acquisitions and joint-ventures for its asset management business to help it compete with larger rivals, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Targets may include U.K. and U.S. asset managers focused on retail clients and specialized asset managers in areas such as real estate, the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are private. Senior executives at the Zurich-based bank think the $800-billion asset manager needs more scale to compete internationally, two of the people said. The bank is unlikely to make any single very large acquisition, the people said.

Building scale has become a key topic for asset managers across Europe amid sustained pressure from larger, more technologically-advanced U.S. rivals who can undercut its fees. Recent consolidation in the industry included the combination of Standard Life Plc and Aberdeen Asset Management Plc. UBS has enough capital to consider deals again after shunning acquisitions, the people said.

UBS declined to comment.

Asset management unit head Ulrich Koerner has been overhauling the unit since 2014, disposing of assets and pushing into passive-strategy products, which now account for almost 40 percent of assets managed. That’s helped reverse outflows, although it has reduced margins. Pre-tax profit in the six months through June was lowest in two years and less than five percent of UBS’s total.

Shares in UBS rose as much as 1.6 percent to 13.9 Swiss francs ($13.8) as of 9:32 a.m. in Zurich, giving the company a market capitalization of 53.4 billion francs.

At the bank’s investor day in London last week, Koerner hinted that the unit could consider deals after not being in a position to do so for years, though the principal strategy remains organic growth, he said. He expects companies managing between 50 billion and 500 billion Swiss francs are most likely to be bought as the industry consolidates.

Koerner deepened job cuts earlier this year. The unit eliminated at least 100 positions in areas including distribution, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the cuts are private.

Asset Manager Woes

Still, UBS is one of the few European asset managers, along with France’s Amundi SA, that took in fresh money in the three months through September. Companies including Jupiter Fund Management Plc, DWS Group and Switzerland’s GAM Holding AG saw outflows of client money, though GAM’s struggles are tied to the suspension of a star fund manager.

Deutsche Bank AG’s DWS has struggled this year to replace billions of dollars of assets repatriated by U.S. clients after last year’s tax reform. The company said last week that Chief Executive Officer Nicolas Moreau will be replaced, after it reported worse-than-expected outflows in the third quarter.

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