Saturday, May 26, 2012

UBS Loses Footing In Europe Thanks To Tax Authorities

UBS just can't do anything right lately.  They lost a couple of billion dollars a few months ago when a rogue London trader made a wrong-way bet.  JPM's "London Whale" had nothing to fear from that dude; he harpooned himself.  Anyway, UBS's latest headache comes from non-Swiss tax collectors cracking down on scofflaw clients.  They can say goodbye to a bunch of well-heeled clients who thought they could avoid prying eyes.

I used to work at UBS and I had zero success at doing business their way, so of course I relish watching them squirm.  I believe many of their problems stem from the consulting geniuses they brought on in the mid-2000s to run many of their global departments.  These whiz kids in their 30s had zero experience in traditional Swiss banking but they didn't let that stand in the way of their transformation efforts.  I'm still waiting for the full effects of their genius to bear fruit.  We shall see just how exposed UBS truly is to the Eurozone's debt crisis and whether the whiz kids did a bang-up job at erasing internal risk controls.  Forget UBS.

Criminal clients who want to hide assets from the developed world's tax authorities are going to have a rough go.  No Swiss-branded private bank can shelter them anymore because Swiss banking privacy laws are now full of more holes than Swiss cheese.  I predict we'll see more billionaire tax cheats buying their way outright into the good graces of "frontier" economies' ruling elites.  Oh, BTW, legitimate law-abiding clients won't benefit much from UBS either.  There's nothing there in product or service that you can't get cheaper somewhere else.

Full disclosure:  No position in UBS or JPM at this time.