UBS Announces 10,000 Firings, Affecting Investment Bank Division Most

Logo of Swiss bank UBS.
Logo of Swiss bank UBS Reuters

“In heaven,” goes an old joke about the character of various European nationalities, “the chefs are French, the lovers are Italian, the police are British, the mechanics are Germans and everything is managed by the Swiss.”

“In hell,” by comparison, “the chefs are British, the lovers are Swiss, the mechanics are French, the police are German and everything is managed by the Italians.”

While they can probably still comfort themselves with haute cuisine and BMWs, bankers in Zurich and Geneva were fuming at the idea of Italian management Wednesday, a day after giant Swiss bank UBS began an aggressive round of layoffs that saw many financiers in those cities forced to clear out their desks with little warning. In private conversations, Twitter messages and pseudonymous blog posts, workers in the Swiss financial capitals were poking fun at the rookie bank CEO behind the layoffs, Sergio Ermotti, or -- more perversely -- suggesting the firings were the result of a bank management overtaken by a cabal of Italian yes-men.

In a statement Tuesday morning announcing 10,000 firings, Ermotti had told investors  that “our people will be supported and treated with care.” Those words became the immediate target of criticism by Swiss bankers, including one who posted anonymously on popular Swiss financial blog In$ide Paradeplatz referring to Ermotti as “a former Ticino bank trainee.”

“Ermotti dares much. … The conclusion is still undetermined,” the post’s author concluded.

Another entry on the site lamented the bank’s direction ever since the arrival of Ermotti and two other Italian executives, Edoardo Spezotti and Andrea Orcel.

Behind the virulent, ad hominem attacks has been the drastic, sudden job-slashing, which have hit UBS’ investment bank the hardest and appeared to have gone into effect immediately. According to the Financial Times, just hours after UBS made the official announcement on Tuesday that it was cutting 10,000 jobs, some bankers arriving early to the bank’s London’s and Zurich offices found their ID cards no longer allowed them access into the building. Others found out even earlier in the morning, when clients called them to tell them their email accounts appeared to be bouncing messages.

“They are sent into a special room and told they are on special leave,” an unidentified UBS employee was cited by the Financial Times as saying.

It seemed in London at least, bankers took the situation more in stride. According to the Telegraph, several bankers who were fired Tuesday morning had by 8 a.m. congregated at the door of a local bar, asking the owner to open early for them: “We were banging on the door,” the Telegraph quoted one of the bankers as saying. “Today is for drinking, tomorrow is for thinking about our careers.”

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