• Christian Hintermann, Partner |

KPMG and the University of St.Gallen's annual analysis of Swiss private banks shows that banks generated record high Net New Money and Assets under Management last year. Large Independent Asset Managers are also growing, and are responsible for more AuM than all small banks combined.

It is 12 years since we launched our annual analysis of Switzerland's private banks. A huge number of banks have disappeared since. In fact, our first edition in 2010 covered 163 banks. It is now down to 92. This figure alone demonstrates the transformation the industry has gone through over the past decade.

By 2015, the implications of a wave of new regulations, end of banking secrecy, tax transparency, and automatic exchange of information had become clear. Most banks recognized the need to change, seeking to reposition themselves by adapting business models, streamlining operating models and in many cases adopting new strategies. Many did so successfully, but not all.

I have seen first-hand with my clients how stronger banks achieved high Assets under Management (AuM) growth from Net New Money (NNM) and performance – and how they have realized economies of scale, significantly lowered their cost-income ratios, and stabilized their income margins. This puts them in an excellent position, which will be needed as rapidly rising inflation, higher interest rates, and huge geopolitical concerns all begin to impact global wealth management.

Here is our take on how banks performed in recent years, in 2021-22 in particular:

Banks have been on different trajectories during the transformation

Back in 2015, the Return on Equity of our four clusters of Swiss banks (Strong, Upper mid, Lower mid, Weak) were remarkably similar. Time has treated each grouping very differently since. By 2021, the gap was dramatic – median RoE for the Strong banks was 11.1% and a very poor -1.7% for the Weak banks.

Around half of Swiss banks have emerged in a strong position

The strongest make up around half of Switzerland's private banks. They have spent years restructuring and investing, yielding significant strategic and operational improvements. The benefits of these efforts are now evident in considerable improvements to gross profit, NNM and AuM growth. 

2021 was a golden year for AuM growth

At CHF 3.2 trillion, AuM at the end of 2021 was the highest we have ever seen. It is an impressive 12.5% higher than 2020 and almost 50% higher than 2015. This has been achieved through outstanding levels of NNM, which also hit a new record last year. 2021 was the third consecutive year of strong and increasing NNM growth.

M&A slowed and was mainly large banks optimizing their set-ups

Most deals in 2021 and the first half of 2022 were by large Swiss banks seeking to optimize their international set-ups and enhance profitability. There were no significant strategic moves. The coming few years may see a return to large-scale M&A as markets get more difficult and there is less organic growth available.

The industry is becoming more concentrated, and the number of banks is falling

The "Big 8" Swiss private banks are responsible for almost 80% of AuM. By contrast, 38 small banks – down from 104 in 2010 – manage only 2% of AuM; we expect the number of exits here to accelerate. Small banks are in part being overtaken by independent asset managers (IAMs). Together, the 37 largest IAMs have more AuM than all small banks combined. We will see if the IAM business model is better suited to smaller wealth management operations. 

Swiss banks are in a strong position for whatever comes next

With inflation and interest rates both rising sharply, severe geopolitical tensions and a war in Europe, there are troubling times ahead. Switzerland's stronger banks have demonstrated strategic thinking and an operational ability that has seen them through tough periods in the past.

As the massive challenges take hold throughout the rest of 2022, we will see how much also the strong banks will be hit and how quickly they adapt, and how many of the weakest banks can survive with declining AuM in the market. It will also be a testing time for the IAM business model to see if it can continue to grow and replace the smallest private banks. 

We expect it will fall to the strong banks and large IAMs to protect Switzerland's role as a global wealth management center in the face of growing adversity.

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