lungern village in switzerland

Switzerland’s financial markets authority is getting a new chief executive as the rich Alpine country looks at ways to strengthen regulations after UBS hurriedly took over ailing rival Credit Suisse last year partly to prevent a global banking meltdown.

The Swiss government on Wednesday selected Stefan Walter, a 59-year-old German national who was director-general of the European Central Bank for the last decade, to head the Swiss financial authority known as FINMA.

The agency played a key role, along with government officials and bank executives, in striking the megamerger worth 3 billion Swiss francs after Credit Suisse customers rapidly pulled out their money following years of scandals. Swiss authorities feared the collapse of such a major lending institution could further roil global financial markets following the failure of two U.S. banks last year.

The troubles at Credit Suisse threatened to unhinge Switzerland’s position as a leading financial market, and the takeover left the country with only one internationally important bank: UBS.

A FINMA report issued last month laid out lessons from the brush with banking catastrophe, calling for a stronger regulatory toolbox that would pinpoint responsibilities with banks, grant the financial agency the power to impose fines, and impose tougher rules on corporate governance, among other things.

A parliamentary panel created after the government-orchestrated merger has been looking into the origins of the deal. Plus, Switzerland’s executive branch, known as the Federal Council, is expected this spring to issue a report on “too big to fail” rules that will inform parliament’s debate on whether and how to beef up banking regulations.

Walter takes over from an interim chief in place since the September departure of former FINMA CEO Urban Angehrn, who left citing the health consequences of a “high and permanent stress level” from being in the position.

Before Angehrn, British-Swiss national Mark Branson led the financial authority from 2014 to 2021.
Marlene Amstad, chair of the FINMA board, said Walter’s “knowledge in the area of large bank supervision and his links to international supervisory authorities will be a great asset for FINMA’s supervision of the systemically important Swiss banks.”

Amstad told Swiss public broadcaster SRF on Saturday that FINMA has been boosting its scrutiny of UBS, and about 60 staffers are now directly or indirectly responsible for supervision of the combined bank. In August, only 22 staffers were directly responsible for supervising UBS, she said.

Walter, who has a master’s degree in international banking from Columbia University in New York, will start the job on April 1, the Swiss government said.