AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Ralph Hamers made his mark as a tech-savvy chief executive who led Dutch bank ING (INGA.AS) back to profitability after cementing its position as a no-frills lender in Germany and simplifying its product portfolio.
It is this record which is likely to have appealed to Switzerland’s UBS (UBSG.S), which named him CEO in a surprise move on Wednesday, rather than the controversies which somewhat tainted his seven-year tenure as head of the Netherlands’ largest bank.
Hamers’ time as head of ING saw the bank subject to a record fine for lax anti-money laundering procedures, and public rows with politicians from the left and right over his and other bankers’ pay.
In moving to Switzerland he is likely to escape such salary strictures given the generous 13.8 million Swiss francs ($14 million) compensation doled out to UBS’s outgoing Sergio Ermotti, excluding benefits, in 2018, compared with the 1.75 million euros ($1.9 million) Hamers received at ING, with his bonuses scrapped due to the money laundering fine.
Dutch pay caps meant Hamers was one of the lowest-paid CEOs among major European banks. UBS hasn’t yet disclosed details of his prospective pay packet.
Hamers, 53, climbed through the ranks at ING since starting his career there in 1991, becoming head of its Dutch operations in 2005 and its Belgian branch in 2011, before being appointed as successor to Jan Hommen at the helm of the bank in 2013.
Netherlands-born Hamers, who holds a Master of Science degree in Business Econometrics/Operations Research from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, is lauded for his focus on improving the bank’s digital services, improving its smartphone app for retail clients, and for acquiring a string of fintech companies, with varying levels of success.
But credit for his success remained limited outside the bank, as Dutch politicians from all sides of the political spectrum kept hammering on the importance of curbing bank executives’ pay.
This led ING to quickly scrap plans for a 50% pay hike for Hamers in 2018, which would have taken his annual pay up to around $3 million, as the plans sparked outrage throughout the Netherlands, although the bank maintained its CEO had been underpaid for years.
Hamers, who is married to a former ING colleague and who has twin children, a boy and girl, repeatedly scorned traditional Dutch frugality, warning that it severely limited the ability for banks to attract top level international talent in the wake of Brexit.
He also didn’t shy away from criticism of the European Central Bank’s ultraloose monetary policy, which he deemed unnecessary and harmful to consumer confidence.
Usually dressed without a necktie and with the top button of his shirt undone, Hamers made an effort to sport the image of a young, modern and approachable CEO, who stood among instead of above his employees.
Yet his easy-going image received a blow in 2018 as ING was fined a record 775 million euros ($837 million) in a settlement with Dutch prosecutors over ING’s inability to spot money laundering in its accounts for years.
This again put Hamers at the center of a publicity storm, with politicians and investors questioning the decision not to hold the bank and its executives responsible in court.
Various activist investors have started court cases against ING and Hamers, and a lower court last year said it would hear their arguments.
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