On private banking refugees and client assets...

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Somewhere, are large numbers of private bankers in search of a home.

Despite purporting to be hiring 600 private bankers between now and 2012, Credit Suisse's fourth quarter results suggest it was trimming in 2009: globally, it ended the year with 100 fewer relationship managers than it began; 60% of the reduction was in EMEA.

However, the outflow of private bankers from Credit Suisse was a trickle compared to the torrent from UBS. Between December 2008 and December 2009, UBS lost 1,054 client advisors - 25% of its total.

What's become of all these RMs? The star performers, who left voluntarily, have found alternative employment. Various UBS defectors have joined RBC Wealth Management, which hired a huge 500 people for its international business last year. Others have set up on their own. Still more have joined Barclays Wealth.

One London private banking headhunter says 'star performing' private bankers who can bring client assets will (unsurprisingly) always find new homes. "Selectively, most of the big private banks are hiring, but it's very geared towards the book of business an individual can bring," he says.

However, many of UBS's missing relationship managers weren't star performers: they left involuntarily as part of the bank's headcount cull. Their whereabouts is unknown.

The problem is, that even for stars bringing a book of business isn't easy. And for non-stars, particularly those who've been out of the industry for some time, it's likely to be impossible.

Although Oswald Gruebel this week blamed the UBS staff exodus for the bank's massive asset outflow in the fourth quarter, he also dispelled the notion that clients follow individuals: according to Gruebel only 30-40% of each employee's book left with them.

This is far lower than the 80% of client assets that headhunters say senior relationship managers like to claim they can bring to a new role.

"The value of hiring in private bankers is questionable," says Stephen Wall, a director at wealth management consultancy Scorpio Partnership. "If only 30-40% of assets move, it throws into doubt the recruitment strategy of the whole industry."

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