By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Angelika Gruber
ZURICH (Reuters) - UBS, the world's biggest private bank, is considering rolling out its online investment platform worldwide after a successful trial in Britain, the head of wealth management at the Swiss bank said.
SmartWealth, which launched in Britain this year, provides automated financial advice for customers looking to invest upward of £15,000.
"We built a fully automated digital wealth management advisor. Scaling this up will be essential," the Swiss bank's chief operating officer for wealth management, Dirk Klee, told Reuters.
UBS hopes SmartWealth will help expand its customer base from millionaires and billionaires to the so-called mass affluent, those with assets of 100,000-2 million pounds to invest.
SmartWealth could be expanded on the back of the bank's newly unified IT platform which excludes only the bank's U.S. private banking business, which is run out of a separate American division.
"We are in the process of evaluating if we will roll it out globally through the platform," Klee said, in the interview this week.
IT PLATFORM REAPS BIG SAVINGS
UBS last year said it would spend around 1 billion Swiss francs ($1 billion) to standardize its IT platform across the wealth management business, helping to lower costs and facilitate the launch of digital features like SmartWealth.
The bank has not provided a specific savings target.
The new IT structure, known as One Wealth Management Platform, is now raking in savings for the wealth management business in the markets where it has been launched.
"The synergies are immense," Klee said. "Wherever we implement it, you can see that the operating costs go down in a double-digit percentage amount. Everything we invest in, in the future, will be more efficient and cost less."
The wealth management division, which comes under new management in January after the departure of its current boss, manages more than 1 trillion francs in assets and had 3.9 billion francs in nine-month operating expenses.
The project to unify the IT structure began in 2013, with UBS aiming to have it finished by end-2018.
The bank has now unified 85 percent of its wealth management business on the platform, with a few countries such as Italy and Taiwan still outstanding, Klee said.
Klee said clients' needs were largely the same globally and the sector needed to take a cue from tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba, which could position themselves as the banks of the future.
"Why do we have one iPhone globally?" Klee asked. "You can ask, does it really make sense to have a global infrastructure, a global offering when the world is so diverse? And I can tell you, it does make sense."
(Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)