Will Jurg Zeltner's KBL Become a Modern Version of Pictet?


  • Zeltner is moving aggressively to build a partnership-style leadership team at KBL, much in the style of Pictet, one of Switzerland’s oldest private banks.

  • Plenty of money from the al-Thani family and a host of big-name former colleagues with an entrepreneurial drive will get the ball rolling fast.

  • A sinking share price and stagnation at UBS can underscore Zeltner’s appeal to new hires as well as former clients who want a fresh take on managing their wealth.

  • With the purchase of Bank am Bellvue and a successful group rebrand, KBL could make a big splash early next year on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse.

UBS’s former top private banker has grand ambitions for a little-known Luxembourg wealth manager. He is copying a 214-year-old Genevan partnership and leaning on Qatari firepower to do so.

On Wednesday, Juerg Zeltner made his first hire in Switzerland – former UBS colleague Dagmar Kamber Borens. The high-profile hire reveals the contours of his plans: the former UBS top banker envisages KBL as a partner-led private bank in the mold of Geneva's Pictet, two sources familiar with his plans said recently.

The picture emerging is that Switzerland, the world’s largest offshore market and the one Zeltner knows best, will be a linchpin in KBL’s plans. This raises the question of eventually moving the wealth group from the Grand Duchy to Switzerland – something Zeltner privately doesn't deny.

Rebrand for 2020

More immediately, he is looking to wrap up the planned purchase of Bank am Bellevue by early next year, according to one person familiar with the deal. Zeltner enjoys a sturdy safety net in the Qatari backing, but he can’t buy the rich history of Pictet, a white-glove wealth manager founded in 1805.

Instead, KBL plans a broader «rebrand» of its eight brands across five European countries – also planned for early next year. Some of the brands – such as Merck Finck in Germany and the U.K.'s Brown Shipley – are likely to remain, at least for now, because they still command strong recognition from potential clients in their markets. 

Casting the Hiring Net

Others, like the KBL brand itself, will be replaced by a new one, likely next year. Zurich-based Bellevue lends KBL a Swiss banking license and shell to build its business. The next step is to add assets – and fast, the people said: Zeltner personally has «cast the net» to potential recruits.

The long-time private banker enjoys a star power similar to that of Pictet partner Boris Collardi, who ran Julius Baer for nine years. Zeltner is in contact with ten to 15 different teams of private bankers, as well as former contacts both at UBS and others in the wealth management industry – many of them in Switzerland, one of the people said.

Start-Up with Qatari Safety Net

He is certain to be in touch with a cadre of former associates shut out of UBS’ 2018 private banking merger – ultra-rich banker Agis Leopoulos, for example. Others likely to be on his call list include bankers like ultra-rich specialist Thomas Baumann; Zeltner is talking to legal whiz Maria Leistner, who left UBS in April, two sources said.

The lure?

Zeltner is selling the idea of joining a partnership in KBL to experienced private bankers and executives, the two people said. Akin to Pictet’s two-tiered model of top-level partners and second-level equity owners, the system is meant to foster entrepreneurial thinking (Zeltner and associate Jakob Stott both took «significant» KBL stakes earlier this year).

«Boyhood Dream»

In the traditional «banquier privé» model, private bankers hold equity stakes in their firm. They are also accountable, with their personal funds, for the bank’s health – a fate that Zeltner and compatriots will likely be spared at KBL, given the backing of Qatar's ruling al-Thani family.

«We found a structure where the al Thani family continues to own 100 percent of KBL, while we participate in KBL’s success through our investments», Zeltner said earlier this year. After more than 30 years at UBS, he termed the move a «boyhood dream».

More Deals Eyed

Zeltner is seeking to capitalize on the fact that the Luxembourg wealth manager doesn’t have a major tech legacy to sort out first – and it has the funds to splash out on a new platform, thanks to the ultra-wealthy al Thanis. Whether the world needs another Europe-based wealth manager remains to be seen.

On top of technology, hiring, and rebranding, KBL is likely to seek further deals, especially in Switzerland following Bellevue, one of the people familiar with Zeltner’s plans said. The Swiss bank will reap KBL a negligible client book and few advisers; to truly bulk up, Zeltner is looking to return to dealmaking soon after, this person said.

This article originally appeared on Finews.

FinTechIan Simpson