Julius Baer CEO resigns as Swiss bank announces plans to quit private debt business


GENEVA (AP) — Julius Baer says its CEO is resigning and the Swiss bank is quitting the private debt business as well as setting aside more than a half-billion Swiss francs (dollars) reportedly over its exposure to bankrupt Austrian asset manager Signa.

Chairman Romeo Lacher expressed “regret” during a presentation Thursday on the bank’s 2023 results, saying management had not been a “good steward of our firm” but that the troubles were a “single credit event” and other parts of the company were performing well.

Zurich-based Julius Baer said it was exiting the private debt business and the annual results reflected net credit losses of 606 million Swiss francs (about $702 million) — 586 million francs of which included a loan-loss allowance for unspecified private debt exposure.

CEO Philipp Rickenbacher said in a statement that he and the board agreed “it is in the best interest of the company for me to step down” and that the measures taken on the private debt business “pave the way to move forward and regain the full confidence of our stakeholders.”

The bank said deputy CEO and Chief Operating Officer Nic Dreckmann will step in as chief executive temporarily until a permanent successor can be found.

Shares of Julius Baer were up nearly 6% to 50.02 Swiss francs in midmorning trading Thursday on the SIX Swiss Exchange following the news.

Media reports said the bank’s troubles were linked to Signa, but Julius Baer didn’t specify. The bank announced the exposure to private debt issues in November, comprised of three loans to different entities at a “European conglomerate” active in commercial real estate and luxury retail.

Signa Development faced a series of ratings downgrades and filed for insolvency proceedings in Vienna in late December. Switzerland’s financial markets regulator said that month that it was looking into the Austrian firm’s situation.

The woes for Julius Baer come as the bank has benefited in part from the flight of some former customers from onetime competitor Credit Suisse, whose unraveling led to a government-orchestrated takeover by rival UBS last year to avert a possible global banking crisis.

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