Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC):(German: Schweizerischer Bankverein (SBV), French: Société de Banque Suisse (SBS), Italian:Società di Banca Svizzera) is a large integrated financial services company located in Switzerland. Prior to its merger, the bank is the third largest in Switzerland with over CHF300 billion of assets and CHF11.7 billion of equity.
Throughout the 1990s, SBC engaged in a large growth initiative, shifting its focus from traditional commercial banking into investment banking, in an effort to match its larger Swiss rival Credit Suisse. As part of this strategy, SBC acquired US-based investment bank Dillon Read & Co. as well as London-based merchant bank S.G. Warburg in the mid-1990s. SBC also acquired Chicago-based Brinson Partners and O'Connor & Associates. These acquisitions formed the basis for a global investment banking business. In 1998, SBC merged with Union Bank of Switzerland to form UBS, the largest bank in Europe and the second largest bank in the world. The company's logo, which featured three keys, symbolizing "confidence, security, and discretion", was adopted by UBS after the 1998 merger. Although the combination of the two banks was billed as a merger of equals, it quickly became evident that from a management perspective, it was SBC that was buying UBS as nearly 80% of the top management positions were filled by legacy Swiss Bank professionals. Today, what was SBC forms the core of many of UBS's businesses, particularly UBS Investment Bank.
Swiss Bank Corporation traces its history to 1854. In that year, six private banking firms in Basel, Switzerland, pooled their resources to form the Bankverein, a consortium that acted as an underwriting syndicate for its member banks.[ Among the original member banks were Bischoff zu St Alban, Ehinger & Cie., J. Merian-Forcart, Passavant & Cie., J. Riggenbach and von Speyr & Cie. The establishment of joint-stock banks in Switzerland such as Swiss Bank's earliest predecessors (often structured as a Swiss Verein) was driven by the industrialization of the country and the construction of railroads in the mid-19th century.
The Basler Bankverein was formally organized in 1872 in Basel, replacing the original Bankverein consortium. Basler Bankverein was founded with an initial commitment of CHF30 million, of which CHF6 million of initial share capital was paid in. Among the Bankverein's early backers was the Bank in Winterthur, one of the early predecessors of the Union Bank of Switzerland. The bank experienced initial growing pains after heavy losses in Germany caused the bank to suspend its dividend in favor of a loss reserve. By 1879, Basler Bankverein has accumulated enough capital to resume dividends, initially at an 8% annual rate and then increasing to 10% in 1880.
Basler Bankverein later combined with Zürcher Bankverein in 1895 to become the Basler & Zürcher Bankverein. The next year, Basler Depositenbank and Schweizerische Unionbank were acquired. After the take-over of the Basler Depositenbank, the bank changes its name to Schweizerischer Bankverein (Swiss Bank. The English name of the bank was changed to Swiss Bank Corporation in 1917.
The St. Gallen, Switzerland, offices of Swiss Bank Corporation c.1920 SBC continued to grow in the early decades of the 20th century, acquiring weaker rivals. In 1906, SBC purchased Banque d'Espine, Fatio & Cie, establishing a branch in Geneva, Switzerland, for the first time. Two years later, in 1908, the bank acquired Fratelli Pasquali, a bank in Chiasso, Switzerland, its first representation in the Italian-speaking portion of the country. This was followed by the 1909 acquisition of Bank für Appenzell (est. 1866) and the 1912 acquisition of Banque d'Escompte et de Dépots.
The onset of World War I put a hold on much of the bank's development. Although SBC survived the war intact, it suffered the loss of its investments in a number of large industrial companies. Nevertheless, the bank surpassed CHF1 billion for the first time at the end of 1918 and grew to 2,000 employees by 1920. In 1918, SBC purchased Métaux Précieux SA Métalor to refine precious metals and produce bank ingots. the company would be established as a separate subsidiary in 1936 and spun off in 1998. The impact of the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression would be severe, particularly as the Swiss franc suffered major devaluation in 1936. The bank would see its assets fall from a 1929 peak of CHF1.6 billion to its 1918 levels of CHF1 billion by 1936. In 1937, SBC adopted its three keys logo symbolizing confidence, security and discretion. The logo was designed by a Swiss artist and illustrator, Warja Honegger-Lavater.
On the eve of World War II, SBC was the recipient of large influxes of foreign funds for safekeeping. Just prior to the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, Swiss Bank Corporation made the timely decision to open an office in New York City. The office was able to begin operations, located in the Equitable Building, just weeks after the outbreak of the war and was intended as a safe place to store assets in case of an invasion. During the war, the bank's traditional business fell off and the Swiss government became its largest client. Overall, SBC saw its business grow as a result of its wartime government underwriting business.
Decades after the war, it was demonstrated that Swiss Bank Corporation likely took an active role in trading stolen gold, securities and other assets during World War II.
In 1997, the World Jewish Congress lawsuit against Swiss banks (WJC) was launched to retrieve deposits made by victims of Nazi persecution during and prior to World War II. Negotiations involving SBC's successor UBS, Credit Suisse, the World Jewish Congress and Stuart Eizenstat, on behalf of the US, ultimately resulted in a settlement of US$1.25 billion in August 1998 paid by the two large Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse. The settlement, which coincided with UBS's merger with Swiss Bank, together with the bank's embarrassment in the Long Term Capital Management collapse in 1998 brought a degree of closure to the issue.
Swiss Bank Corporation found itself in relatively strong financial condition at the end of World War II, with CHF1.8 billion of assetsBy contrast, the Basler Handelsbank (Commercial Bank of Basel), founded in 1862 and one of the largest banks in Switzerland, was insolvent at the end of the war and was consequently acquired by SBC in 1945. SBC remained among the Swiss government's leading underwriters of debt in the post-war years. However, by 1947 SBC was shifting its focus back to its traditional business of lending money principally to private companies as part of the postwar rebuilding of Europe. Meanwhile, the firm continued its expansion to international markets, particularly the United States where SBC focused primarily on commercial banking for corporate clients. Within Switzerland, SBC remained a full-service bank with a domestic retail banking network and an asset management business.
The Swiss Bank Corporation board room in Basel, Switzerland
SBC prospered throughout the 1950s and embarked on a period of sustained growth. The bank, which had entered the 1950s with 31 Branch Offices in Switzerland and three abroad, more than doubled its assets from the end of the war to CHF4 billion by the end of the 1950s and doubled assets again by the mid-1960s, exceeding CHF10 billion in 1965. SBC acquired Banque Populaire Valaisanne, Sion, Switzerland, and the Banque Populaire de Sierre. The firm continued to open new offices in the US in the mid-1960s and it was also at this time that SBC began to expand into Asia and opened representative offices throughout Latin America. The bank opened a full branch office in Tokyo in 1970. The bank also made a number of acquisitions to enhance its position in various products. SBC acquired a controlling interest in Frei, Treig & Cie. in 1968, Warag Bank in 1970 and Bank Prokredit in 1979 (later sold to GE Capital in 1997). All three banks focused on consumer lending. Similarly, SBC acquired a number of banks in the private banking sector, including Ehinger & Cie. in 1974; Armand von Ernst & Cie. and Adler & Co. in 1976; and a majority interest in Geneva-based Ferrier Lullin & Cie. in 1978. The bank continued its consolidation of Swiss banks acquiring Banque Commerciale de Sion in 1978 and in 1979 acquired Handwerkerbank Basle, the Banca Prealpina SA and Bank für Hypothekarkredite.
As its own home market was highly competitive, SBC focused on commercial banking for American and other multinational companies. Through 1979, SBC was consistently the largest of the three major Swiss Bank by assets, except for short periods in 1962 and 1968 when UBS temporarily moved ahead of SBC. After 1979, although its balance sheet had grown to CHF74 billion of assets, the bank would typically rank second to UBS, which firmly established itself as the largest Swiss bank in the 1980s. SBC would retain this position for the next 15 years until Credit Suisse leapfrogged into the top spot following its 1995 acquisitions of Schweizerische Volksbank and Winterthur Group.
Swiss Bank has had over 50 countries and 64,000 employees globally. In November 2000, UBS merged with Paine Webber an American stock brokerage and asset management firm led by chairman and CEO, Donald Marron. The acquisition pushed UBS to the top Wealth and Asset Management Firm in the world. Initially the business was given the divisional name "UBS PaineWebber" but in 2003 the 123-year-old name Paine Webber disappeared when it was renamed "UBS Wealth Management USA."
The bank would grow considerably in the 2000s, building a large investment banking franchise to compete with the major US and European bulge bracket firms. However, UBS suffered major setbacks in 2007, 2008 and 2009. UBS suffered among the largest losses of any European bank during the subprime mortgage crisis and the bank was required to raise large amounts of outside capital from the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. the Swiss government and through a series of equity offerings in 2008 and 2009.