18013Re: The remains of human giants.
- Dec 9, 2008
ZURICH (Reuters) - Alex Widmer, the chief executive of Bank Julius Baer (BAER.VX: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and a well respected figure in Swiss private banking, has died unexpectedly at the age of 52, the bank said.
A source told Reuters he had been informed by close friends of Widmer's family that the banker had committed suicide.
Swiss news website 20Minuten cited two unnamed independent sources as saying it was a case of suicide.
Swiss police declined to comment on the death.
Julius Baer, Switzerland's biggest dedicated wealth manager which has roots dating back to the 19th century, is based in Zurich and manages more than 360 billion Swiss francs ($300.8 billion) in assets for rich individuals and institutions.
A spokesman said there was no link between Widmer's death and the group's current activities, but declined to give further details on the cause of Widmer's death overnight on Wednesday, saying it was a private matter.
The Swiss news agency SDA said Widmer's wife died from cancer in 2005.
A Zurich-based trader said employees at the bank had been told Widmer had died from an unspecified illness. Widmer, a Swiss citizen, had three children.
"Alex Widmer was the very epitome of a Swiss private banker," Julius Baer said in a statement.
"It is a great shame," added a Zurich-based trader. "It is very sad. He embodied Julius Baer. He was the most important person in private banking."
HEDGE FUNDS WEIGHS
Shares in Julius Baer have lost some 60 percent in 2008 as markets have worried about outflows at its hedge fund GAM, which accelerated in October.
Julius Baer has rejected speculation that it would shed GAM as it restructured its business to focus on wealth management, which has benefited from problems at rival Swiss bank UBS (UBSN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which has seen strong outflows of money to clients scared by its heavy writedowns.
One trader said Widmer's death could lead to "massive uncertainty among investors as a vacuum on the executive level happens in the worst possible time," adding that takeover rumours could resurface in the future.
In November the bank said net operating income to the end of October was down 10 percent from the previous year as assets under management were hit by falling markets, though private banking net inflows had risen significantly in the year to date.
In an interview with Bloomberg conducted the day before his death, Widmer said: "Even if global wealth creation is getting slower, we should do better than the rest."
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