UBS has appointed Merrill Lynch veteran Robert McCann to head its Americas wealth management unit in a bid to rebuild the franchise which has been battered by a damaging tax row.

The widely expected appointment of the 51-year-old, who held several executive positions in a 26-year career with Merrill Lynch, should help the unit to gain market share and increase profitability in a market worth more than $20 trillion, UBS said in a statement.

Under Bob's leadership, I believe that the business will now consolidate its position as the firm of choice for those clients seeking a fully integrated offering of diverse products and tailored advisory services, said Oswald Gruebel, Chief Executive of UBS Group.

UBS Wealth Management Americas saw net new money outflows of 5.8 billion Swiss francs ($5.77 billion) in the second quarter, compared with the first-quarter's net new money inflows of 16.2 billion francs.

The bank has been hurt by a tax row with the U.S. government, which was settled in August. It has also been hit by executive departures, bad bets on auction rate securities and write-downs, and other regulatory setbacks.

The appointment of a new man at the top won't change the fact that the U.S. wealth management unit remains strategically challenged, Helvea analyst Peter Thorne said.

UBS increased its presence in the United States in 2000 with the $10 billion acquisition of PaineWebber Group. The bank reviewed all its business units in 2008 and considered a sale of the former PaineWebber among various possible business options, but dropped the idea.

McCann will lead nearly 8,000 financial advisors across the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, managing 695 billion Swiss francs ($691.5 billion) in invested assets.

($1=1.005 Swiss Franc)

(Reporting by Martin de Sa'Pinto and Katie Reid; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)