UBS's Weber Calls for Larger European Banks to Rival U.S. Firms

(Bloomberg) -- UBS Group AG Chairman Axel Weber expects European banks will need to get bigger to compete with their U.S. counterparts, adding to calls for consolidation in the industry.

“What Europe needs in order to catch up with American firms is European champions, banks that are larger in size,” Weber told Bloomberg’s Francine Lacqua in an interview recorded in November and broadcast on Thursday. “You will see not just domestic banks become more pan-European, you will also see U.S. banks taking a bigger stake in Europe and in Asia because their clients will want global exposure and global banking as well.”

Europe’s lenders have been slower than their U.S. peers to deal with the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, in part because the market remains fragmented along national lines, making cross-border mergers more difficult. Executives from Deutsche Bank head Christian Sewing to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi have called for rules to be harmonized to allow for consolidation.

While Weber championed larger European lenders, he signaled his own firm wasn’t considering a deal at this point. In an interview with newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, also published on Thursday, he said it makes little sense for Switzerland’s largest bank to think about merging with a rival now as big deals can paralyze companies for years.

“We want primarily to grow organically and before we can run we have to be able to walk safely,” Weber told the newspaper.

Weber, in the newspaper interview, said he could imagine staying on as UBS’s chairman until his term expires in 2022, provided he has support from shareholders. Asked if he will still be in office to oversee the next change of CEO, the 61-year-old said succession planning was and will be part of what the bank’s leadership does on a regular basis, but that there is no pressure to act.

His comments come two weeks after people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that the bank is intensifying succession planning for CEO Sergio Ermotti and that Weber is said to favor an outside candidate for the role.

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