Categories: Credit Crunch / Crisis management / Trust and reputations / Zurich

17 December 2008

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UBS’s apology stumbles in the snow

Cleared snow from our road. Went to Basel. Got back and my wife said I had a letter from Peter Kurer, chairman of UBS. Whoopee. And yikes. Perhaps he’s suing me over my blog.

Not at all. He’d sent out a letter to all the bank’s depositors. It starts out saying that many of us have been unnerved by the mess the bank finds itself in and goes on:

We understand your concerns and admit that we, too, have made mistakes.

Hang on a minute, when Kurer says “we, too”, he implies we, his customers, made mistakes that helped create the bank’s mess; or at a stretch the customers made mistakes investing with UBS in the first place. Maybe he meant, but failed miserably to say: “we like other banks made mistakes”.

OK, OK, I know. English is a foreign language at UBS. Still, UBS is a global bank and anyway English is the global language of business.

To be fair, my wife’s version of the same letter in German does not blame UBS’s customers for having made mistakes along with the bank, or whatever. It just admits the bank made mistakes. So it was just English-speaking customers the bank insulted, if anyone. I’m assuming it was a momentary slip, a cack-handed small blunder.

Never mind. It’s not a bad letter. The important thing is that the bank says:

We apologize for not always having been able to fulfill your expectations during this difficult time. Which is why your loyalty is all the more important to us – and is something we by no means take for granted.

….we do not have any immediate influence on how things develop. There are no doubt further challenges ahead. We will still have to confront the occasional setback and make difficult decisions.

Actually, if you want to get picky, I’m not sure I am very worried about the bank’s behaviour in the present “difficult times”. I’m hacked off by their behaviour during the “boom” times when a bit of caution would have helped.

Let’s stick with the seasonal good cheer. This letter goes some way to showing that UBS are not a complacent bunch of Swiss bankers. They have apologised to their customers for their mistakes. They have done so in a letter signed by UBS’s three most senior executives. Even customers with no money in their accounts received it. They have warned us in writing to expect more surprises in the future.

Switzerland’s crisp chill winter air refreshes the spirit. It melts the heart; even if it freezes other parts. So I’m full of Swiss bonhomie. I’m inspired by my neighbours clearing their own street at 7 AM with shovels in the freezing cold while the snow fell. The young helped the old. Smiles and jokes were shared. I’m in a forgiving mood.

Peter Kurer’s letter is exactly what the reputation doctors called for to restore trust. There’s a long way to go. Meanwhile, I’m confident money invested at UBS is safe as it can be with any bank right now and that UBS executives are fighting the good fight in defence of their reputation.

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