What we stand for and where we are headed

Chairman of the Board of Directors Axel A. Weber and Group CEO Sergio P. Ermotti discuss some of 2017’s highlights and long-term value creation for UBS’s stakeholders.

Axel A. Weber Chairman of the Board of Directors

Sergio P. Ermotti Group Chief Executive Officer

What we stand for

What are the financial highlights of the past year?

2017 was an excellent year for us, with profit before tax up 29% to CHF 5.3 billion. We also delivered on our CHF 2.1 billion net savings program. That said, at UBS performance is not just judged by annual financial results. One of our firm’s  three Principles – along with Client Focus and Excellence – is Sustainable Performance, which we define as focusing on the long term and providing consistent returns to our stakeholders.

Why was your net profit attributable to shareholders far lower in 2017 than it was in 2016?

Like many of our peers, we were affected by a net write-down of our US deferred tax assets, due to the new US tax law. We had been able to write up these deferred tax assets in the past few years, as a result of our strong profitability in the US, and they remain in place for future utilization. The write-down in 2017 had no impact on our fully applied CET1 capital and does not affect our ability to return capital. Excluding the effects of these US tax law changes, net profit was CHF 4 billion, up 22%.

Is UBS’s capital position still a competitive advantage?

Yes, definitely. Capital strength continues to be a key pillar of our strategy. Our fully applied CET1 ratios are comfortably above the 2020 requirements. Since 2012, we’ve substantially reduced risk and balance sheet exposures, while increasing our total loss-absorbing capacity by around CHF 50 billion to almost CHF 80 billion. Our progress and overall resilience is reflected in our valuation compared to peers, our credit ratings and, most importantly, the trust our clients place in us. At the same time, the greater visibility on future capital requirements provided by the Basel Committee at the end of 2017 enabled us to update our capital returns policy and plan more meaningfully for the future.

What are the details of your updated capital returns policy?

Our aim is to further increase returns to shareholders while building on our strong capital position. Going forward, our priority is to pay an ordinary dividend, growing at mid-to-high single-digit percentage per annum, while considering supplementary returns, most likely in the form of share buybacks. For 2017, we intend to propose a dividend to UBS Group AG shareholders, for approval at our May 3rd Annual General Meeting (AGM), of CHF 0.65 per share, an 8% increase on the prior year. We’ll also initiate a share repurchase program of up to CHF 2 billion over three years, including up to CHF 550 million in 2018.

Did the UBS share price develop as you thought it would in 2017?

While we don’t set specific absolute targets for our share price, our aim is that the unique value of our franchise – which is more than the sum of its parts – is properly reflected. A good measure is our valuation on a relative basis. From that perspective – looking at the ratio of our share price to our tangible book value – we’ve been trading at a ratio above one for the past six years and remain in a strong position compared to many peers. Relative share price performance is influenced by a number of factors including business models and geographic exposure. In 2017, peers with greater overall US presence and less influenced by low and negative interest rates in Europe and Switzerland were operating in a much more favorable macroeconomic setting. Combined with the changing regulatory environment in the US, this is reflected in relative transatlantic share price performance. Looking ahead, we’ve set ambitious return and efficiency targets for the next three years to drive further valuation growth.

Your strategy has remained the same for quite a while – is it time to change it?

While we continuously adjust and improve to adapt to a changing environment, our strategic focus on global wealth management and universal banking in Switzerland enhanced by focused and competitive Investment Bank and Asset Management businesses is right for UBS. Sustainable performance is only possible with a long-term strategy. We’re the clear leader in global wealth management and in Switzerland, with the most sophisticated capabilities. The global wealth management market is forecast to grow at twice GDP and as the firm with the most diversified geographic footprint, we are in the best position to benefit from this development. Now that we have more regulatory clarity on future capital and liquidity requirements, we are sharpening our focus on growth across our businesses and making further investments to continue increasing returns to shareholders.

Are your other businesses less important given your focus on wealth management?

No, the UBS franchise is unique and not just about wealth management. Our diversified business model also benefits from Personal & Corporate Banking, the Investment Bank and Asset Management. All are successful businesses in their own right. Together, they make a significant contribution to earnings, diversify revenues and generate high-quality returns. Without them, our Global Wealth Management business would not be what it is today, nor could it deliver on its aspirations. And our Swiss roots and UBS brand continue to be a huge advantage – both in our home market and in growth regions such as Asia Pacific.

Our progress and overall resilience is reflected in our valuation compared to peers, our credit ratings and, most importantly, the trust our clients place in us.

Where are we headed

Where do you expect to grow and invest going forward?

From a geographic standpoint, we have a clear ambition to grow in the Americas and to reinforce our leadership in our home market Switzerland. And we are big believers in the Asia Pacific opportunity, especially China, where wealth creation continues to accelerate and we are in a very strong competitive position. In the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, we want to leverage our capabilities to grow our share in a market that is more and more likely to consolidate. To shape our digital future, we intend to keep investing at least 10% of the Group’s revenues in technology, adding around CHF 1 billion in tech spend over the next three years. We’ll focus these investments on enhancing and differentiating the client experience and product excellence UBS offers, while also accelerating effectiveness and efficiency.

Is your workforce prepared for these technology investments, which may automate many of their current tasks?

That’s an existential question all companies are faced with when considering the fourth industrial revolution. On one hand, automation  will be necessary, as from a demographic point of view more people will be retiring than entering the workforce. On the other hand, however, it’s not just about technology, but about how we’ll work in the future. Companies that have succeeded in the past can’t be complacent – they’ll need to help their staff adapt. One way we do that at UBS is by providing learning and development opportunities to our employees. In 2017, they participated in approximately 765,500 training activities. And our own UBS University offers more than 2,400 e-learning and classroom-based trainings. It’s our responsibility, but also that of our employees, to invest in their capabilities so that they stay agile and flexible.

We are strongly committed to being – and remaining – a leader in the field of sustainability. Our cross-divisional organization UBS and Society focuses the firm on this direction.

Why have you not announced a new cost savings program?

We’re no longer in restructuring mode, so efficiency has moved from being a program to how we run the bank day to day. And the fact that we just completed a cost savings program delivering CHF 2.1 billion in net savings does not mean efficiency is no longer on the agenda. We’ve set quite demanding internal targets for our business divisions and Corporate Center to drive positive operating leverage – so to increase revenues while reducing costs. We’ve also said that we’re targeting a cost / income ratio of below 75% for the Group. What we’ve refrained from doing, however, is to go public with a big, aggregated savings number to be achieved in a number of years. While such an approach may attract headlines and please some in the analyst community, it can lead to behavior that runs contrary to our long-term approach and, for example, jeopardize client service and risk management, ultimately undermining sustainable performance.

Who does UBS create value for?

Clients, shareholders and employees are the primary stakeholders we create value for. Our role as a bank is to finance economic growth by facilitating investment and credit. And we support people and businesses with the financial services they need to reach their goals. As a firm, we contribute by directly employing over 60,000 people, by consuming products and services and by paying taxes.

Is UBS paying taxes again in Switzerland?

Yes, we’re actually a top taxpayer in the country. UBS’s corporate tax payments over the last 20 years add up to around CHF 13 billion, including CHF 3.5 billion post-crisis. But being a good corporate citizen is about far more than just paying taxes. It also means acting responsibly, and our stakeholders expect nothing less.

How else does UBS create positive value for society?

We are strongly committed to being – and remaining – a leader in the field of sustainability. Our cross-divisional organization UBS and Society focuses the firm on this direction. It covers our activities and capabilities related to sustainable investing and philanthropy with clients, our environmental and human rights policies governing client and supplier relationships, our environmental footprint and our community investments. And, we’re happy to report that we’re being recognized for our work across these areas. Among others, the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, which are the most widely respected sustainability ratings, confirmed UBS as the industry leader for the third year running in 2017.

How do you make sure your corporate culture supports long-term value creation?

Over the past six years we’ve brought a more traditional banking mentality to UBS, really focused on our clients, sustainable performance and excellence in everything we do. We’ve incentivized behaviors that underline the importance not only of what is achieved, but also how it’s achieved. And we’ve set targets that drive long-term success. To capture the opportunities ahead, we’ll continue to do just that.

We have a clear ambition to grow in the Americas and to reinforce our leadership in our home market Switzerland. And we are big believers in the Asia Pacific opportunity, especially China.