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Credit Suisse to expand advisor unit for billionaire clients

Credit Suisse will boost the number of private bankers that serve its richest clients in the first move by the bank’s new international wealth-management chief.

The lender plans to "significantly expand" its business for its strategic clients, who are mostly billionaires, according to a memo from Philipp Wehle seen by Bloomberg and confirmed by a bank spokesperson. As part of that, Switzerland’s second-largest bank will employ more so-called strategic client partners primarily responsible for the richest customers.

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Credit Suisse is pushing deeper into the ranks of billionaires, putting it into closer competition with larger rival UBS. The international wealth business has focused on Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa and was led until recently by Iqbal Khan, who moved to UBS at the beginning of this month and was replaced by Wehle.

The bank will also place its hybrid digital offering for primarily affluent to high-net-worth clients into a new unit called Private Banking International led by Raffael Gasser, who takes over from Gianpiero Galasso. Gasser previously headed the bank’s operations in Luxembourg and will be tasked with building a pan-European hub in the city state from which to book and serve clients.

Like his predecessor, Iqbal Kahn, Wehle was promoted to lead international wealth management after previously serving as a divisional finance chief. The German banker joined Credit Suisse 14 years ago after a stint at a management consultant.

Credit Suisse Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam has been devoting more face time to top private bankers and holding talks on boosting pay as he seeks to prevent defections after the Khan’s exit, people familiar with the matter said earlier this month. Thiam had created the international wealth management unit in 2015 after taking over Credit Suisse.

The CEO has been reaching out to the best revenue generators at the international wealth business to discuss compensation and career prospects since Khan left in the summer, paying particular attention to emerging markets such as Brazil, the Middle East and emerging Europe, the people have said.

A scandal erupted over Khan’s departure after it was reported that Credit Suisse had its former employee followed to make sure he didn’t try to encourage others to defect. The bank’s own probe led to the ouster of Chief Operating Officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee, a key ally of the CEO, though it didn’t find wrongdoing on Thiam’s part.

The bank is also considering a return to U.S. wealth management after a four-year absence, with talks focused on adding $15 billion of assets at a new base in Miami that would mostly cater to wealthy Latin Americans, people familiar with the matter have said.

In a previous reshuffle under Khan last year, Credit Suisse split the key private banking unit into seven regions from four.

Bloomberg News