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Swiss private banking has been rocked by the defection of the high profile chief executive of Zurich’s Julius Baer to Geneva-rival Pictet as the industry scrambles to win the business of the world’s rich.

Boris Collardi’s unexpected resignation from Julius Baer on Monday to become a Pictet partner highlighted the fierce competition between Swiss private banks as they seek to expand wealth management businesses, especially in Asia.

Pictet and Julius Baer are two of Switzerland’s largest asset managers, although they rank behind the Alpine country’s biggest banks UBS and Credit Suisse in terms of assets under management.

Mr Collardi had been Julius Baer’s chief executive since 2009 and gained attention by overseeing an aggressive expansion programme, including in Asia, and for often taking contrary positions — for instance spying possible growth opportunities in a post-Brexit UK.

Speculation about his future had grown in recent years but his departure is a setback for the bank, which has been left scrambling to fill the vacancy.

On Monday, Julius Baer said Bernhard Hodler, its 58-year-old chief risk officer, would take over temporarily while the board reviewed the long term leadership of the business. Julius Baer’s shares fell almost 5 per cent at SFr57.40 in early European trading.

Mr Collardi’s decision to quit was largely personal, according to people familiar with the matter. After nine years as Julius Baer’s chief executive, he wanted a role that was less pressured and more balanced than managing a listed company. He also wanted to have more time with his family near Geneva.

Mr Collardi felt he was leaving at a high point in the bank’s fortunes, with its share price ending last week more than 30 per cent higher than year earlier. His pay-off package, which is likely to be considerable, would be discussed with the board in coming weeks, the person said.

Julius Baer regretted Mr Collardi’s departure but respected “his personal desire for a change,” said Daniel Sauter, chairman. “Julius Baer is in excellent shape,” he added.

Since the 2007-2008 global financial crises, and following the US-led global clampdown on tax evasion, Swiss banks have re-written their business models to focus on tax-compliant wealth management — but have faced significant pressures to boost investment performance and cut costs.

Mr Collardi, aged 43, will become the youngest partner at Pictet, one of the world’s most conservative banks, which last appointed an outsider straight to a partnership in 1998. He joins the six existing partners, the most senior of whom is Nicolas Pictet, a descendant of the bank’s 19th century founding family.

Pictet partners on average serve two decades, with decisions taken by consensus. Last year, Mr Pictet told the Financial Times he hoped soon to appoint a female partner, but with Mr Collardi’s arrival all seven will remain male and French speaking.

Earlier this year, Lombard Odier, a rival Geneva-based bank, recruited Annika Falkengren, the chief executive of Swedish lender SEB, as managing partner.

Mr Pictet welcomed Mr Collardi’s appointment “at a time when the prospects for wealth and asset management globally have never been more promising, nor more challenging”. Mr Collardi will take joint responsibility for the Pictet’s global wealth management business.

Pictet had assets under management or custody of SFr492bn at the end of September. Julius Baer had assets under management of SFr393bn at the end of October.

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