Majority of Swiss want new UBS-Credit Suisse mega bank split up

More than three-quarters of Swiss voters want the combined mega bank created by UBS’s emergency takeover of rival Credit Suisse to be split up by new legislation.

A poll published on Friday evening by the country’s biggest pollster, GfsBern, adds momentum to calls in Switzerland for a review of the deal, its possible reversal, and even laws to permanently clawback bonuses from Credit Suisse employees for the benefit of taxpayers.

The country’s three biggest political parties have this week expressed deep reservations about the rescue — which was brokered last weekend by the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s seven-person executive.

Switzerland’s parliament — which only sits every few months — is due to convene for an emergency session in April. The Federal Council is likely to face a political storm when it does.

The country’s biggest political party, the rightwing populist SVP, which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament, has said it will veto extending liquidity support for UBS and Credit Suisse from the Swiss National Bank if the government does not commit to a break-up of the entity and measures to claw back bonuses from Credit Suisse bankers.

The second-largest party, the leftwing Social Democrats, has said it will demand new banking legislation. “Tough measures will be on the table,” the party has promised its supporters. “Laws must be made that end the culture of irresponsibility.”

Even the pro-business conservative FDP, the third-largest party, has called for a crackdown. The party said Credit Suisse’s domestic bank should be separated from UBS as soon as the merger has been settled and markets have calmed.

“A UBS with a balance sheet total of SFr1.5tn is too big for Switzerland,” the party said.

Its stance is particularly awkward because Switzerland’s finance minister, Karin Keller-Sutter — a key figure who made the merger happen — is an FDP member.

The poll found 83 per cent of voters “strongly” agreed that Credit Suisse’s management should be “held accountable”, with 71 per cent strongly agreeing that profits should not stay private while taxpayer money was involved.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents strongly agreed with the statement: “UBS is now too big. It should be split up because of the risks,” while 32 per cent said they agreed.

A similar number said investment banking should be permanently split from deposit-taking activities: 47 per cent strongly agreed with bringing forward new laws to do so, with 31 per cent saying they agreed.

A majority of respondents also felt that the Swiss government had overstepped the mark in using emergency powers to wipe out some bondholders, a measure that has caused outrage among overseas investors, and sidelined shareholders.

Just over half of those surveyed — 52 per cent — said they would support a national referendum on the government’s emergency decree.

Under Switzerland’s direct democracy model, just 100,000 signatures would be needed to trigger a national referendum, the outcome of which would be constitutionally binding.

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