Yet another foreign bank is entering the U.S. private banking market.
Union Bancaire Privee, a $9.6 billion-asset bank based in Geneva, plans to open an investment management office in New York next month. But rather than rely on Swiss banking cachet alone, Union Bancaire has hired three high-profile members of the New York investments scene to help drum up business.
The potential rainmakers are Robert F. Agostinelli and M. Steven Langman, two merger-and-acquisition specialists at Lazard Freres & Co.; and Sheldon S. Gordon, a hedge fund manager at the Blackstone Group.
"They are hiring visible local professionals with the ability to kick- start the thing, versus trying to do it themselves over the long-term," said J. David Barrett, a partner of Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm in New York."In terms of credibility and contacts, that will be a major plus."
The U.S. subsidiary, dubbed Union Bancaire International Inc., will do investment advisory work, direct investments in new issues, and market the bank's own hedge funds. Regulatory approval from different agencies is expected over the next three months.
The investment business will operate separately from the bank's representative office here, which does business only with other banks.
Union Bancaire's executives said they were compelled to enter the U.S. investment market to compete globally.
"Over the last six years there has been a conversion of the financial markets to globalization," said Edgar de Picciotto, chairman of Union Bancaire Privee. "We can't be in the asset management business if we're not in the U.S."
Mr. de Picciotto said he expects the bank's hedge funds to serve as its mark of distinction in the competitive U.S. marketplace.
"If we didn't bring something to this market, we wouldn't have done this," Mr. de Picciotto said.
Mr. Agostinelli, 42, until last week was a senior managing director for investment banking in the New York office of Lazard. Named to Union Bancaire's executive management committee in Geneva, Mr. Agostinelli now oversees all of its international private banking units, including U.S. asset management.
His colleague Mr. Langman, 34, was the youngest person to be named a managing director at Lazard. He is now president of Union Bancaire's U.S. subsidiary and reports to Mr. Gordon, 60. Mr. Gordon, a former general partner of Blackstone, is now chairman of Union Bancaire's U.S. subsidiary.
Competitors said Union Bancaire's roster of heavy hitters should enable it to pick up clients in the U.S.
"There's plenty of room for that kind of strength to come on board," said James L. Schlagheck, general manager for domestic private banking for Bank Julius Baer, another Swiss bank.
Mr. Schlagheck added that mergers among big banks in the United States could create opportunities for smaller players. "The question is whether private clients will enjoy that consolidation," he said.