Shocked UBS Staff Take to Twitter
The old joke that UBS stands for "U've Been Sacked" was doing the rounds on trading floors on Tuesday as the Swiss bank confirmed plans to cut 10,000 jobs as part of a radical restructuring to slim down its investment banking division.
UBS was one of the most popular trends on Twitter as the blogosphere flooded with comments in several languages, describing the shock and resentment of staff.
Many claimed they only found out they had been fired because their passes had been deactivated. "Whole desks are gone and there are people stood outside without access to the building," one tweeter wrote, describing the scene at the bank's London office.
(Read More: UBS CEO Calls Job Cuts 'Painful' as 10,000 Laid Off)
Another said bankers' passes at the London office did not work on arrival: "They are sent into a special room and told they are on special leave."
One London-based fixed income banker recounted how she was first alerted to losing her job when her email kept bouncing back on Tuesday morning. "It would be inappropriate to say anything about the rather devastating manner of how this has taken place," the banker said.
UBS has started a consultation process for 100 traders in fixed income, which included one-on-one meetings with a human resources representative.
There will be a two-week period during which employees can apply to work in another part of the bank, such as asset management, although it is unlikely many would be redeployed.
One headhunter said the cull, which has affected all parts of UBS from investment banking to sales and trading and commercial paper, was "extraordinary and very brutal".
Cary Cooper, a professor at Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University, said a company should not start job cuts on the day of a restructuring announcement. "This is bad for the ones who leave because they will badmouth the organisation and it is bad for the survivors because they will think they will be next."
However, Axel Weber, UBS chairman, countered that "dealing with our employees in a respectful and adequate fashion means that we cannot leave them in uncertainty about what is coming over the next three years".
Several bankers commented on how the cull was worse than 2008 at the peak of the financial crisis, when the bank was forced to cut thousands after suffering billions of euros of losses from the credit crisis. "UBS jobs losses not a nip and tuck – it's butchery," one tweet said.
Others poked fun at Sergio Ermotti, chief executive of UBS, who had earlier reassured investors that, "our people will be supported and treated with care."
Traders at a rival bank in the City of London said the widespread feeling was that the restructuring was more about self-empowerment and self-aggrandising by the management than about a long-term strategy.
One trader questioned if UBS would have the balance sheet in its future slimmed-down investment bank to compete in business areas such as the underwriting of large rights issues. "This will be like a quote from the film Top Gun – 'your ego is writing cheques that your body can't cash'."
The job cuts, which will be implemented over the next three years, will reduce UBS's 64,000 payroll by 16 per cent and are aimed at saving $3.6bn.
In Switzerland, the news reopened a longstanding cultural rift between wealth management and investment banking. Inside Paradeplatz, the most popular news outlet for Zurich-based bankers, had a banner on its homepage stating: "Go to the barricades, Swiss bankers! The losers of the UBS big bang are the Anglo Saxons; they are going on a hunt for the jobs in wealth management."
(Read More: The Immeasurable Risk European Banks May Be Hiding)
But while some of UBS's London staff were blocked from entering the bank's offices, its US employees in the New York, Stamford and Weehawken offices were barred from coming to work for entirely other reasons: hurricane Sandy, which swept across the northeast coast.
Those UBS offices that were open on Tuesday were operating with critical staff only, and everyone else was encouraged to stay indoors and off the roads, the company said.