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Shareholders approve UBS bonus payout

UBS shareholders yesterday vented their anger at the Swiss bank for awarding hefty payouts to staff, despite the firm recording big losses during the financial crisis.

Over 40 per cent of investors at the firm’s annual meeting in Basel called for an end to the bank’s big bonus culture. The protest will keep chief executive, Oswald Gruebel, under pressure at a time when he needs to attract top staff, including financial advisers needed to stop client withdrawals.

But Gruebel will be relieved that 55 per cent of shareholders backed the bank’s 2009 compensation plan, allowing the non-binding motion to go through.

Beat Amstutz, spokesman for the large asset manager Swisscanto, which voted against the bonus package, said: “It’s a clear signal from investors and I think... it will have to be taken into consideration by management.”

Gruebel said the bank expected client withdrawals to continue despite a slowdown in the first quarter.

More than $50bn (£32.3bn) of writedowns drove UBS to its biggest annual loss in 2008 and threatened its survival, prompting state intervention. The bank has also been the target of a high-profile US tax fraud investigation.

UBS paid Sfr3bn (£1.8bn) in cash bonuses in 2009 despite annual net losses of Sfr2.7bn, although Gruebel did not take a bonus.

“Money is not the only value,” said disgruntled UBS investor Christine Renaudin. “Let’s make the new UBS a bank that will make sustainable profit without being a slave to money.”

Around 60 small shareholders spoke at the annual meeting, many with anger at their personal losses and at bonuses that could exceed 100 times an average person’s salary. Gruebel said the bank had not yet succeeded in restoring trust.