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Baer vs Pictet: Coming bust-up on the Bahnofstrasse?
16/05/2018 , John Evans, International Editor

Boris Collardi, erstwhile chief executive of the Julius Baer Group  and arguably the most charismatic Swiss private banking leader for a generation, formally becomes a partner of Pictet next month.

Unsurprisingly, the Swiss guessing game is how aggressive Boris and his new bank will be in recruiting staff from Baer and other Swiss firms in what is clearly shaping up to be a growth push for the hallowed Geneva banking partnership, which dates its ancestry to the turbulence of Napoleonic times back in1805.

Boris, at only 43 has enough fire left in his belly to want to make his mark at Pictet, say people who know him well.  That may mean jousting with Baer over the latter’s traditional position of the third largest Swiss private bank, after the heavyweights of UBS and Credit Suisse.

Boris’s resignation from Baer last November shook Swiss banking – he been chief executive since 2009 and had presided over a period of torrid growth at the bank.  At Pictet, he will be joint leader of the global wealth management business.

Perhaps a sign of potential clashes to come is shown in plans for Pictet to take on new premises in Zurich in addition to its Geneva home. Pictet has by all accounts looked at offices on the Bahnhofstrasse, just across from Baer’s own HQ on this notable Zurich thoroughfare.

Pictet sources stress that no decisions have yet been made although speculation is that Boris will stay in Zurich much of the time, with frequent commuting to his old stamping grounds in Asia.

Neither Pictet nor Boris have talked much about their strategy, although the latter has said he looks forward to taking a more entrepreneurial type of role with his new bank. 

Expectations are that the banker, who learned his trade Credit Suisse, will try to emulate his highly successful foray into Asia with Baer, which adopted the slogan “Asia is our second home” as, like many rivals, it made great play for the wealth of the super-rich across Asia.

Baer regional Asia head Jimmy Lee has been quoted as saying its bankers are already braced to go up against their former chief executive.

Would Pictet have a chance of dislodging Baer in the ranks of Swiss super-banks?  Again, the key may be Asia - Pictet is clearly gearing up for a Far East push.  It has just obtained a wholesale bank licence from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to expand, allowing it to offer Singapore dollar services, including deposits and loans.

Still, in Asia Pictet is only about half the size of Baer, with an estimated $36 billion managed out of Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Taiwan and Osaka. Baer can boast of $65 billion of Asian business.

On the other hand, Pictet has a strong investment management presence.  Its total funds, which include those held in custody but managed by rival banks, amount to CHF 509 billion. The bank doesn’t disclose how much it directly manages. Baer reported total client assets of CHF 457 billion last year.

An important part of media-savvy Collardi’s mandate will be to undertake brand building in Asia, where the Pictet name is not that well known, say Zurich bankers.  Projecting Pictet as a class act will be crucial in attracting clients – and also the private bankers which the firm undoubtedly will want to recruit to build scale.

And if he wants an entrepreneurial place to work, Pictet should be ideal. As the partnership says in its publicity blurb: “It is the fate of many businesses that…they become process-driven bureaucracies. Pictet has kept its entrepreneurial spirit alive by finding the right balance between order and disorder...”

Welcome aboard, Boris but not too much disorder on the Bahnhofstrasse, please.

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