Swiss private banks make history with results release

AFP
The headquarters of the private bank Lombard Odier & Cie in Geneva on April 17, 2013
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The headquarters of the private bank Lombard Odier & Cie in Geneva on April 17, 2013 (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini)

Geneva (AFP) - Swiss private banks Lombard Odier and Mirabaud on Thursday published their first results for two centuries, as the ultra-discreet sector puts its books in the spotlight.

Lombard Odier said first-half net profit was 62.5 million Swiss francs (52 million euros, $68.2 million), while assets under management were 156 billion francs.

"These results are in line with our expectations and reflect both the investments we make towards our strategic objectives as well as the conservative use of our balance sheet," said Patrick Odier, senior managing partner of the bank founded in 1797.

"Our group is increasingly diversified, more international and more balanced between private and asset management clients and we are expanding our partnerships with financial services providers," he added.

Fellow private bank Mirabaud -- founded in 1819 -- released its results shortly afterwards.

Its first-half profit was 17.5 million francs, while assets under management or custody reached 27 billion francs.

The results flurry began on Tuesday with the private bank Pictet, founded in 1805.

It announcing a first-half profit of 203 million francs, and assets under management 404 billion francs.

Lombard Odier said its tier one capital ratio -- a benchmark of stability, which measures a bank's own top-notch funds -- was 23.8 percent.

In comparison, Mirabaud's was 19.7 percent and Pictet's, 21.7 percent.

Under global rules, banks must have a ratio of at least 4.5 percent, while Switzerland's regulator requires 7.8 percent.

Swiss private banks have changed shape amid a tougher regulatory environment since the global financial crisis, and scandals such as the Madoff fraud case in the United States which rippled across the world's banking sector.

Traditional Swiss banking secrecy has been under fire as governments -- notably the United States and European Union -- crack down on tax cheats who stash cash abroad.

The private banking sector caters for the super-wealthy, an increasingly globalised client group.

The complex nature of international finance has made it difficult for private bankers to feel safe with their tradition of putting their personal assets on the line.

The shake up in the sector began in January when Pictet and Lombard Odier abandoned their old statutes, followed by Mirabaud and LaRoche, which is also scheduled to publish its results.

The old rules made their handful of wealthy managing partners -- bankers for generations -- personally responsible for clients' money.

If the bank got into trouble, the partners could lose all their assets, not just those they had invested in the operation.

The banks are now a "corporate partnership", a hybrid status making comparison easier with fully-listed players such as Credit Suisse and UBS.

It is similar to the "limited company" structure in the British Isles, with its well-known "Ltd." label.

The partners now risk only the funds they have invested in the bank, rather than putting all their personal assets on the line.

Not being listed on the stock exchange, the banks do not have to publish as detailed results as mainstream banks.

Seven lower-profile private banks have opted to stick to their traditional operating model.

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