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Wealth manager M&A hits 8-year high

Merger and acquisition deals in wealth management spiked to a new high last year as smaller private banks and wealth firms were snapped up by bigger groups in an effort to weather increasingly stringent regulatory costs and pressures.

The number of deals reached a new high of 124 in 2015, up significantly from the 83 seen in the previous year. But the size of assets under management (AUM) that changed hands fell by over $50 billion as smaller group acquisitions were the main focus, according to data from wealth management data research firm, Scorpio Partnership.

The total assets under management acquired in 2015 dropped to around $408 billion, down from $461 billion the previous year.

Swiss Francs
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Swiss banks proved to be the most active in the space, with larger private banks in the country looking to smaller Swiss operations as well as wealth arms of firms overseas in a bid to increase scale to keep up with the increasing costs of changing regulation in the industry.

"2015 may eventually be labelled the year the Swiss regained confidence with a select group of wealth managers choosing to support growth through the corporate cheque book," said managing partner of Scorpio Partnership, Sebastian Dovey.

Deals involving Swiss wealth management businesses were the largest on average according to Scorpio data, with the average deal coming in at $9.4 billion per acquired firm.

With one-quarter of global assets under management, Switzerland remains one of the biggest cross-border financial centres for private banking according to data from the Swiss Banks Association.

But the number of banks in the country has fallen from 330 in 2007 before the financial crisis to 275 in 2014, the group said.

Last month, Zurich private bank EFG International announced plans to acquire fellow Swiss bank BSI, which had been acquired by Brazilian lender BTG Pactual just months earlier.

Meanwhile, Union Bancaire Privée bought Coutts International from Royal Bank of Scotland last year.

"Looking closer at the deals concluded, it is clear that a much higher number of deals took place among the much smaller wealth managers. Notably the volume of AUM changing hands is substantively down from 2013 when $708 billion was traded," Dovey said.