UBS said on Wednesday that it was bringing back Sergio P. Ermotti, a former chief executive, as the Swiss banking giant prepares to take over Credit Suisse, its troubled rival.
The unexpected return of Mr. Ermotti, 62, comes as UBS faces the difficult work of absorbing Switzerland’s other banking titan after the government-brokered acquisition earlier this month. The $3.2 billion deal was arranged hastily as Credit Suisse, tarred by decades of scandals, management upheavals and failed attempts at reform, finally succumbed to investors’ doubts about its ability to survive a global wave of turmoil in the banking sector.
The extent of Credit Suisse’s legal troubles grew wider later on Wednesday, after the Senate Finance Committee accused the Swiss bank of violating a 2014 plea agreement with U.S. prosecutors over the bank’s role in helping clients evade taxes.
Concluding a two-year investigation into Credit Suisse, the Senate report, conducted by the committee’s Democratic staff, said that Credit Suisse bankers had helped conceal more than $700 million from American tax authorities in violation of the agreement, including by helping a single family conceal nearly $100 million.
Now, Mr. Ermotti is charged with managing Credit Suisse’s legal troubles, which may include fallout from the Senate investigation, while he oversees the merger of the two biggest banks in Switzerland. That process is expected to involve the sensitive tasks of shutting down parts of Credit Suisse’s investment banking operations and overseeing extensive layoffs in overlapping divisions.
From 2011 to 2020, Mr. Ermotti led a revival of UBS during a previous bout of restructuring, after the bank was laid low during the 2008 financial crisis by bad bets on mortgages and a 2011 trading scandal that cost the firm $2.3 billion. His strategy refocused UBS on its historical strength of managing the wealth of global elites, and away from the riskier, more volatile investment banking and trading businesses.
“We see him as a safe pair of hands with a deep knowledge of UBS, and that is exactly what the firm needs at this moment,” Nicolas Payen, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux, wrote in a note. UBS’s share price rose nearly 4 percent in trading in Zurich.
The UBS board determined that “for this massive integration exercise, Sergio would be the better pilot for the next part of this voyage,” Colm Kelleher, UBS’s chairman, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Mr. Kelleher said he began talking with Mr. Ermotti about a potential return on March 20, the day after the Credit Suisse deal was announced. Mr. Ermotti plans to start at UBS on April 5.
After leaving UBS, Mr. Ermotti became chairman of Swiss Re. He plans to step down from that role shortly after the reinsurance group’s annual shareholder meeting in mid-April.
He will succeed Ralph Hamers, who took his place as chief executive in 2020. A Dutch banker who previously ran ING, Mr. Hamers had little experience in wealth management or investment banking before joining UBS — areas that Mr. Ermotti oversaw during his previous stint atop the Swiss bank.
Mr. Hamers was hired in part to focus on improving UBS’s digital operations to appeal to younger wealthy clients, which has now taken a back seat to integrating Credit Suisse, said Johann Scholtz, a research analyst at Morningstar.
“I am of course sorry to leave UBS, but circumstances have changed in ways that none of us expected,” Mr. Hamers said in a statement. “I am stepping aside in the interests of the new combined entity and its stakeholders, including Switzerland and its financial sector.”
To underscore the size of the challenge, Mr. Kelleher, who was Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer during the 2008 financial crisis, said that the deal between UBS and Credit Suisse was bigger than any struck during that last period of turmoil. UBS and Credit Suisse are two of the 30 banks designated by regulators as “globally systemically important,” which subjects them to stricter rules and oversight.
Though UBS plans to close much of Credit Suisse’s investment bank, it hopes to retain some of its top investment bankers, though other firms have lately been moving to poach promising recruits.
Mr. Kelleher also alluded to Credit Suisse’s history of financial losses and scandals. Speaking before the Senate committee’s report was released, he said that taking over the weaker firm required shielding UBS from what he said were “clearly parts of Credit Suisse that had a bad culture.”
In its report on Wednesday, the Senate committee laid out what it said were violations of Credit Suisse’s 2014 plea agreement, conducted with knowledge of senior executives at the bank. Among them was a purported scheme that enabled a family of dual U.S.-Latin American citizens to avoid reporting the existence of nearly $100 million in funds once held at Credit Suisse, in what investigators said may be one of the biggest bank reporting violations on record.
In addition to urging the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service to follow up on its findings, the Senate committee said that “any entity that acquires Credit Suisse” or the Swiss government should pay any fines that arise from the investigation.
“The bank’s pending acquisition does not wipe the slate clean,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the committee’s chairman, said in a statement.
A representative for the Justice Department declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Credit Suisse, Candice Sun, said in a statement that the report describes “legacy issues,” and that the firm had both tightened its compliance procedures to crack down on tax evasion and had been cooperating with U.S. authorities to investigate wrongdoing.
A spokeswoman for UBS, Erica Chase, said that the firm had “made an assessment of outstanding litigation and investigation matters” as part of due diligence ahead of its takeover of Credit Suisse, and expected the deal to perform “in a wide range of business scenarios.”