Widening gap between Swiss private banks

Widening gap between Swiss private banks

A recent study conducted by KPMG Switzerland and the University of St. Gallen has shown that the gap between Swiss private banks is widening. While many private banks are in the process of adapting their business models to the changing environment, very few have succeeded in increasing their profitability. Only a small group of private banks have been able to pull away from the rest of the industry and make lasting improvements to their managed assets, efficiency and profitability. Meanwhile, smaller financial institutions in particular have felt increasing pressure this year.

Media contact

Head of Media Relations

KPMG Switzerland


Related content

This year, KPMG Switzerland once again joined forces with the University of St. Gallen to investigate the profitability and efficiency of private banks in Switzerland. While last year’s study yielded unexpected results, this year had in store even more surprises. As the study «Clarity on Performance of Swiss Private Banks – The widening gap» shows, the pressure on smaller banks in particular continued to increase this year. For many, the decision is clear: either they must leave the market or they must make fundamental changes to their business model so that they can continue to operate their business profitably and sustainably. «However, they don’t have much time left to make the necessary changes», warns Christian Hintermann, Head of Advisory Financial Services at KPMG Switzerland. «In general, many banks still appear to be undecided on which path to choose. We can expect the face of the industry to change significantly over the coming years.»


«While private banks are attempting to adapt their business models, only a small group of very strong institutions have managed to increase their profitability», says Philipp Rickert, Head of Financial Services and Member of the Executive Committee at KPMG Switzerland, summarizing the results. He also points to the falling number of banks that still rely on undeclared legacy assets, predicting that «this concept will not survive in the medium term.»


The results at a glance:


  • Banks must decide: Flight or fight? Smaller financial institutions in particular have felt increasing pressure this year. They face a stark decision: either leave the market or adapt their business models. However, not much time remains to make the necessary changes. In general, many banks still haven’t decided and lack a clear strategy despite the continued decline in their development. The further decrease in the number of banks in Switzerland can be attributed to M&A transactions and – to an even greater extent – liquidations and the withdrawal of primarily Anglo-American private banks from the market. We anticipate that around a further 30% of Swiss private banks will disappear from the market over the next three years through acquisitions and liquidations. This will reduce the number of private banks from 130 at the last count to fewer than 100.
  • Pause in mergers and acquisitions for 2015 despite driving forces remaining strong: The first seven months of this year saw a pause in M&A transactions, in contrast with 2014’s flurry of activity. This is largely due to a lack of sellers as well as potential buyers’ concerns about unforeseeable risks related to undeclared client funds and business practices that are no longer accepted. However, we expect M&A activities to regain momentum, in part thanks to the increase in settlements between banks and the US Department of Justice. The study shows that, even within the first two years of undertaking a major acquisition, banks see a significant increase in return on equity and revenue per employee.
  • Market drives growth in managed assets while net new money inflows remain negligible: The 7.3% growth in managed client assets last year is attributable to positive market developments and a strengthening US dollar. In contrast, net new money inflows made up a modest 0.5% of assets. There were marked differences between the various banks: those in the groups «Strong Performers» and «Turnaround Completed» achieved net inflows of 24.9 billion Swiss francs in total in 2014. Meanwhile, banks in the groups «Decline Stabilized» and «Continuing Decline” saw net outflows amounting to 17.9 billion Swiss francs. Overall, the median for managed assets among the «Strong Performers» group has increased by 146% since 2008 thanks to higher net new money inflows, inflows from mergers and acquisitions, and returns on managed assets. Consequently, the ability to grow is a critical success factor.
  • «Strong Performers» stay in the fast lane while the rest grapple with poor returns on equity: The private banks in the study had more to contend with than just weak growth. With a median value of 3.5%, returns on equity stayed at modest levels and saw little improvement in 2014. 80% of the private banks surveyed achieved returns of below 8% for the year. Only «Strong Performers» generated returns of above 9%, while most banks in the «Continuing Decline» group posted operating losses. Smaller financial institutions with less than 10 billion Swiss francs in managed assets are feeling the pressure in particular, with 41% of these falling into the «Continuing Decline» group. Returns on equity for the smaller banks were less than half those achieved by banks with more than 10 billion Swiss francs in managed assets.
  • Significant differences in efficiency within bank clusters: Increased operating efficiency and economies of scale have a positive effect on returns. Last year, «Strong Performers» achieved revenues of 585,000 Swiss francs per full-time employee, with this figure only reaching 357,000 Swiss francs for banks in the «Continuing Decline» group. The «Strong Performers» had just under 15 full-time employees per billion Swiss francs of managed client assets, with other banks had almost twice as many at 26 full-time employees. The «Strong Performers» appear to owe their success to their stronger focus on core markets, their increased operating efficiency thanks to outsourcing and economies of scale, and their strong growth rates.
  • A new CEO does not improve financial results: More than one third of the private banks in the study have replaced their CEO at least twice in the last nine years. In many cases, this has done nothing to improve their financial position in the two years after the changeover. Therefore, there is little to suggest that private banks can improve their results only by making changes to the upper echelons of management. Financial institutions that had kept the same CEO for the last nine years or only changed CEO once achieved higher returns on equity than banks that changed CEO two or more times.

Performance of Swiss Private Banks

Christian Hintermann summarizes the key findings of the study «Clarity on Performance of Swiss Private Banks» in a video interview.

Read more

Clarity on Performance of Swiss Private Banks

Clarity on Performance of Swiss Private Banks

Study of the performance of 87 private banks in Switzerland, including profitability, assets under management and consolidation trends.

© 2016 KPMG Holding AG is a member of the KPMG network of independent firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss legal entity. All rights reserved.

Connect with us


Request for proposal



KPMG's new digital platform

KPMG's new digital platform