China the elephant in the room: Julius Baer CEO

Investor nerves over emerging markets and China – the "elephant in the room" – are resulting 25-30 percent holdings in cash at Swiss bank Julius Baer, the chief executive told CNBC Monday.

CEO Boris Collardi said investors were looking to reduce their exposure to emerging market volatility such as that seen in China since the start of the year, with investors increasingly nervous that the world's second-largest economy could be heading for a "hard landing" as growth slows.

"If you look at China, the elephant in the room in the last 12 months, we've had a lot of volatility and that makes people nervous," he told CNBC Europe's "Squawk Box."

"There is a little bit more caution on the side of investors and at the same time we're looking at them trying to diversify their emerging market concentration...I would say they've been cautious on leverage, some of them have deleveraged a bit but broadly we're still continuing to see people active in the market. But I think our reading is perhaps a bit more pessimistic than what it is on the ground."

He added that the bank was holding "double-digit number in cash."

Hedge funds have been notable for putting big shorts against the Chinese yuan in the expectation that the currency will depreciate further - particularly as pressure mounts on the People's Bank of China to devalue the currency further to increase the competitiveness of its exports, among other reasons.

Collardi said that while he believed the renminbi will "devalue over time" but he said that, structurally, "we should see some good numbers from China."

His comments come after the bank reported that net profit under IFRS accounting standards fell by two thirds in 2015, largely due to provisions for penalties in a U.S. probe into tax evasion by American clients, it said on Monday.

Switzerland's third-largest listed bank posted IFRS net profit for the year of 121 million Swiss francs ($118.5 million). Underlying net profit, which excludes a $547.25 million provision for the tax case, rose by a fifth to 701 million, lagging the 729 million average in a Reuters poll.

Collardi said underlying operating profit had been "very strong" and that 2015 had been the year when its U.S. litigation had "finally been put to bed." "It was also a year when the market volatility made investors and market participants return to consulting their bank for guidance in the market."

It proposed raising its dividend by 10 percent to 1.10 francs, in line with market expectations.

Reuters contributed to this report.