Friday , September 24 2021

Is Sabine Busse-Keller the right person for the new job?

The big bank’s COO will be the new President of UBS’s Swiss business. The personnel were surprised at first glance. What do bankers say about changing jobs?

Sabine Keller-Busse excelled at the digitization of processes at UBS, but she has little customer experience.

Sabine Keller-Busse excelled at the digitization of processes at UBS, but she has little customer experience.


If a new CEO takes over a company, there will often be personnel changes at a management level. Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that the big bank UBS, whose new CEO Ralph Hamers took over on November 1st, announced two changes to the top management level on Friday. From February 2021, Sabine Keller-Busse, today the CEO (COO) of the big bank, will be in charge of domestic business. Former Swiss UBS boss Axel Lehmann is leaving the bank after a transition on July 31, 2021, it is said. No reasons are given for the change, let’s just say that Lehmann himself decided to take this step.

Again, there are open questions. Obviously the move had to be fast. Iqbal Khan, Co-President of Global Wealth Management, takes on the role of Keller-Busses as President of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) region. The bank has not yet filled the significantly more important job, its successor as COO.

Transport or promotion?

As head of Switzerland, Lehmann did a decent job, but he didn’t rip big ropes, like his predecessor Martin Blessing. Bank managers may want to get started here, especially as the Corona crisis has seriously hit UBS’s lending business. In an internal workforce email, Lehmann states that, given the planned longer-term realignment, he wants to put Swiss business in new hands at the age of 61.

It is not immediately clear why Keller-Busse is relinquishing the position as factual number two of the big bank. In this UBS engine room job, she is responsible for 25,000 good employees. It will now be “solely” responsible for 20,600 employees. Did the new CEO Hamers want to send them off delicately? During the past few years, Keller-Busse had been repeatedly traded as a potential successor to Sergio Ermotti.

The bank does not want to comment on speculation. However, the bankers interviewed deny it is a transportation question. Even if the big bank likes to present itself as an international financial house: Swiss business is one of UBS’s pillars. The new role provides Keller-Busse with a great opportunity to undertake frontline experience for one of the most important banking areas for the first time. It’s a matter of promotion, says banker, Keller-Busse is convinced with performance.

In fact, the 55-year-old was also able to score externally in her role as chief emergency manager. In this way, UBS is coping well with home offices and other digital challenges for customers and employees in the new Corona world. This is also because Keller-Busse has updated information technology in previous years.

“Far from being a business”

Critical voices say Keller-Busse has been «very far away from bankers and from business». In fact, there are many bankers at the level of corporate management and one or two levels of management, just as the new head of Hamers bank would like: international, diverse and digital savvy. However, the leading bankers often have a different background and have to compete for corporate and private customers every day in the highly competitive Swiss market. What can a woman with little frontline experience and also with a foreign background contribute here?

For the Swiss head at UBS, there are definitely new areas of growth and cost efficiency. The bank must protect its current position as number one in the everyday market. To maintain and expand this position, UBS must become significantly more digital in all areas, say those surveyed. Keller-Busse has a lot of experience in this field.

Of course, it would be an advantage if the department was managed by an expert with a strong customer focus. Today, however, even the head of a Swiss retail bank is primarily concerned with project management and internal processes and dealing with regulatory and compliance issues. In this regard too, Keller-Busse has the best prerequisites.

Keller-Busse is extremely competent, refreshingly normal and, above all, she makes decisions, you always know you’re with her first, judge those who know her. On the other hand, a banker who worked with her found that she was strongly influenced by McKinsey’s culture and, most of all, by “showing slide options”. Still, he says he’s good with people. She can also rely on “outstanding people” in her new area.

The dual German-Swiss citizen has also long been associated with Switzerland. After an apprenticeship as an industrial clerk at Siemens in Munich, he studied business administration at the HSG in St. Louis. Gallen, where he graduated with a dissertation. While still at university, after her father’s (early) death, he took over his father’s electronics retailer and therefore responsibility for 30 employees. In 1995 he joined management consultant McKinsey, and from 2002 was a partner with a focus on the financial sector. After two years as Head of Private Client Business for the Zurich Region at Credit Suisse, she moved to UBS in 2010. The married mother of two daughters became Head of Human Resources in 2014, became a member of the Executive Committee in 2016 and became COO in 2018 .

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