UBS Prepares to Shift $36.5 Billion of Assets to Germany While U.K. Bickers Over Brexit

February 6, 2019, 10:35 AM UTC

The impact of Brexit on London’s financial sector came into stark relief as a judge approved plans by a UBS Group AG unit to shift some of its U.K. business — involving assets valued at more than 32 billion euros ($36.5 billion) — to Germany.

The Swiss bank’s plans are a response to the “external shock” of Britain’s exit from the European Union, not designed for “commercial advantage” or based on any “internal rationalization,” said Judge Alastair Norris in London, who approved the proposal Tuesday.

The goal is to keep operations going amid uncertainty about the post-Brexit future of “passporting” rights, which allow financial companies to market products and services in any EU country without having to set up a branch there. Earlier Tuesday, when the bank’s lawyers applied for permission to make the changes, they cited a “real and immediate risk” that UBS may lose the right to conduct some operations in the EU.

The bank’s equity trading venue is staying in London, even as rivals accelerate plans to shift trading elsewhere in Europe.

UBS is the latest bank to go to court for permission to activate Brexit plans, with the country’s scheduled departure now just weeks away. Last week, Barclays Plc got the green light to transfer large parts of its British business to its Dublin-based subsidiary if needed.

UBS plans to transfer the operations of its U.K. unit, UBS Ltd., to its German unit, UBS Europe SE, on March 1, making the German business big enough to be regulated by the European Central Bank. The business being transferred involves assets of more than 32 billion euros, according to UBS’s court filings.

It includes deposit taking and some operations in equities, foreign currency and credit, as well as some of the bank’s corporate client solutions function, which covers structured finance, lending, equity capital markets, debt capital markets, leveraged capital markets and mergers-and-acquisitions work. Fewer than 200 jobs are expected to be transferred.

Before the U.K. unit is dissolved, some of its operations in cash equities, rates and credit, and exchange-traded derivatives — mostly business with “exempt clients” that doesn’t need to move abroad because of Brexit — will be transferred to UBS’s London branch. Those operations cover about 15 percent of the British unit’s assets and 43 percent of profits.

The plans are intended to take effect March 1 — almost a month before the U.K.’s March 29 departure date from the EU — but could be deferred if the bank’s English unit “receives sufficient comfort before then that suitable transition arrangements have been agreed by the U.K. and the EU,” the bank says in court documents.

Any deferral would be until July 24 at the latest, and the transfer plans could lapse if Brexit hasn’t happened by that date or if the decision to leave the EU has been reversed, the documents say.

UBS has “diligently assessed the impact” of its plans and sought to lessen it, Norris said in his judgment. Its plans strike “an appropriate balance” between providing certainty to clients and coping with the “exigencies of transferring to a different jurisdiction,” he said.

UBS set out plans last March to move operations to Europe. The court hearing was the last step needed to activate them.