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UBS sees spike in digital engagement. Could it be the new normal?

UBS version 3 by Bloomberg
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Clients have poured online in droves, signing up for UBS’ digital presentations in record numbers, the company said, another sign of how the coronavirus pandemic is transforming client-advisor relationships.

The firm probably accelerated by five years user adoption of its digital tools, according to a person familiar with the matter.

UBS reported that client log-ins for its Americas wealth management business soared 26% in March compared to December, according to the firm’s first-quarter earnings report. It reached 95,000 clients through events organized by its chief investment office during the quarter. Nine thousand clients tuned in for a wealth management radio show on a single day in March.

That engagement helped boost business during an otherwise challenging quarter; the Americas wealth management business reported $3.3 billion in net new money, according to UBS. However, overall invested assets fell to $1.229 trillion for the quarter from $1.298 trillion for the year-ago period.

The firm is making changes to its small household policy, which it had previously tightened prior to the current public health crisis.
April 22

To be sure, much of the increased digital engagement was driven by necessity as states and cities ordered non-essential services to close and residents to shelter in place in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. More than 90% of UBS employees in the Americas are working remotely. The firm says it had seven times the number of employees logging in remotely on a daily basis in March than it did in February, before the lockdowns began.

“Today, 90,000 people can connect from home on UBS's systems,” CEO Sergio Ermotti told analysts Thursday, referring to the bank’s global operations. “They are able to do that at any point in time and with access to core capabilities they need. This includes our employees and external staff, all part of the UBS ecosystem.”

Many of the operational changes might become permanent, he added.

Although some local governments are beginning to ease up on restrictions, advisors and clients should not expect a swift return to normalcy. “We might have gone from 10% to 90% working out of the office within a month, but it isn’t going to be that fast going back in,” says the person familiar with the matter, noting that some localities and offices might remain under lockdown-like conditions for a while longer.

During the volatile first quarter, UBS notched record profit for its Americas wealth management business: $380 million, up 16% year-over-year in part on higher recurring fees. Operating income rose 10% year-over-year to $2.392 billion, the firm said.

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