Credit Suisse customers feel mix of anger, relief after sale
Fury at top Credit Suisse managers. Lament over damage to Switzerland's image as a stable, reliable banking center. Relief that authorities stepped in to help protect deposits, but worry about keeping cash invested in a bank that failed to manage its own money adequately.
On Swiss streets, emotions were running the gamut among Credit Suisse customers after the government this weekend orchestrated a takeover of the country's second-largest bank by rival UBS — a bid to prevent further upheaval in the global financial system that began with the collapse of two U.S. banks.
How the merger, with a fire-sale price of 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.25 billion), will play out and its impact on worldwide finance are largely unknown. That has left those stuck in the middle — customers and bank workers — uncertain about what comes next in the deal to create one Swiss megabank.
"My money is already invested in two or three banking establishments," customer Elisabeth Pictet said after exiting the biggest Credit Suisse branch in central Geneva. "I am not a millionaire, but it is true that in the long run maybe I will even more favor local, regional banking establishments."
Pictet — whose husband hails from a legendary banking family in Switzerland — said she's not gotten any communication from the bank about how to proceed but praised the government for a "wise decision" that reassured many Swiss residents like her. She said Tuesday that she's had no trouble withdrawing cash.
"I feel a lot of anger at Credit Suisse managers because in the end, their employees will lose their jobs — many employees who did their work professionally," said Pictet, 59, who is transitioning into retirement from a health care job. "Now, we'll only have a single big bank — UBS — and that is not good: It's good to have competition, and we won't have that anymore."
Asked if Credit Suisse had told customers how to manage their assets since the deal emerged Sunday, a bank spokeswoman said that "until the transaction has closed, business continues as usual for Credit Suisse and its clients."
That likely won't be the case for Credit Suisse's 50,000 workers, 17,000 of whom are in Switzerland, as the two banks combine. The Swiss bank employee's association is demanding that job losses be held to a minimum, that no layoffs happen until year's end, and the government provide an unspecified jobs guarantee.
"It is impermissible that the companies are secured by tax dollars but the employees come away with nothing," the group said in a prepared statement. "The billions in guarantees from the federal government must be linked to conditions favorable to the employees."
The impact of the merger is extensive. Many of Switzerland's 8.5 million people have accounts in either UBS or Credit Suisse.
"I myself am grateful as a customer that this worked out," said Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter at a news conference Sunday to announce the hastily arranged deal.
She said she has accounts at both banks.
"I think what we have done now is really to protect those people who have money at Credit Suisse," Keller-Sutter said, with small- and medium-size companies able to keep paying their workers, carry out transactions and access their savings.
Octavio Marenzi, CEO of consulting firm Opimas LLC, agreed that Credit Suisse depositors need not worry about their money now — though he noted reports of snap withdrawals worth billions of dollars last week amid confusion about the bank's future.
The Swiss central bank and government have since guaranteed loans to the combined bank worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
"Basically, the Swiss National Bank has stepped in and said, 'Your deposits are safe,'" said Marenzi, whose firm focuses on capital markets.
Bank runs are a risk for even the biggest and safest banks, but "with Credit Suisse, things look very, very safe indeed at this stage in terms of deposits. So I wouldn't be in a rush to move money out of there," he said.
It's a different story for those who entrusted their money to Credit Suisse for wealth management or investment advice.
"Those customers are scratching their heads and saying, 'Well, if you can't manage your own money, why would you be able to manage mine?' And that's a fair question," Marenzi said.
Swiss regulators and officials, reportedly under intense pressure from other Western governments and ultra-rich investors, forged the Credit Suisse takeover by UBS in a bid to stop more banking-sector turmoil.
Credit Suisse's problems — ranging from big losses on hedge fund bets to a spying scandal and failing to prevent money laundering by a Bulgarian cocaine ring — predated the recent collapse of U.S. banks but drew fears about its vulnerability.
For some in Geneva, there was sentimentality about the looming disappearance of a storied Swiss bank whose origins date to the budding railroad industry in the mid-19th century.
Credit Suisse customer Mokhtar Zada, 78, a retired former financial-sector worker originally from Afghanistan, said the demise of Credit Suisse wouldn't affect him because he too has an account at UBS and could just transfer money to it if necessary.
"But what a waste," said Zada, clutching a Credit Suisse savings booklet that he first received in 1965 and had shown as a sort of souvenir to bank employees. "It's really too bad that a bank with 170-odd years of history is going to vanish just like that."