Martin Ebner sells BZ Bank to Graubündner Kantonalbank

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financial legend

Martin Ebner hits the mark: The banker sells his BZ Bank

The most dazzling banker of the last 30 years has sold the majority of his BZ Bank to Graubündner Kantonalbank – under the usual non-transparency conditions.

Swiss banker and landlord Martin Ebner poses in a hangar at Zurich airport in March 2022.

Michael Buholzer / KEYSTONE / keystone-sda.ch

He says “Farewell” and stays there anyway. Martin Ebner, the most dazzling Swiss banker of the past 30 years, has already posed many mysteries to the public. Today, the 76-year-old continues this tradition by selling his life’s work, BZ Bank, to Graubündner Kantonalbank (GKB).

The state institute acquires 70% of the shares of BZ Bank – at an undisclosed price. The property for sale is a small bank with 10 employees. The office building is located away from the financial center of Zurich, above the shores of Lake Zurich, in the municipality of Wilen in the low-tax canton of Schwyz. An underpass leads directly to the private villa of married couple Rosmarie and Martin Ebner.

The second farewell

In November 2018, Ebner said goodbye to his bank for the last time. “At 73, the time has come for him to give up at least some of his responsibilities,” writes the “NZZ” in an exclusive interview with the banker. Despite his unchanged role as majority shareholder, Ebner suddenly announced his immediate resignation “from all functions of the board” of the bank, as the odd article put it.

The assumption that the Financial Market Supervisory Authority might have been involved in the hasty withdrawal was obvious, but could not be substantiated. Two years later, the mystery was solved. In a judgment of the Federal Administrative Court published by the “Handelzeitung” in July 2020, it was said that BZ Bank had “seriously violated the supervisory provisions of the financial market legislation”. The verdict follows an identical finding by the Autorité des marchés financiers.

blur the borders

On the basis of specific transactions with shares of the mobile operator “Mobilzone”, the “Handelszeitung” stated, referring to information from Finma: The borders between Ebner’s private investment company Patinex and his bank were blurred, “which is due to the physical proximity, but also in the strong position of Ebner and his (Editor’s note at the time) Double function” of head of investments at BZ Bank and president of Patinex.

GKB boss Daniel Fust points out that these regulatory issues are now completely resolved. The functions have been separated in accordance with good corporate governance. The takeover of BZ Bank took place with the approval of Finma and the transaction was preceded by extensive due diligence. “A state-owned bank like ours cannot afford reputational risks,” Fust said.

Healthy governance

Stefan Holzer, Ebner’s long-time companion, has been at the helm of BZ Bank since December. According to GKB’s press release, he will continue to be able to provide the bank and its new owner via Patinex with his “expertise in the investment business” and “the expertise in private equity” acquired in recent years. Fust sees Ebner’s “entrepreneurial gene” as an investment advantage. Above all, Ebner’s personal presence should also be decisive in ensuring that GKB does not end up with an empty shell.

The bank has long focused on business with wealthy private clients. He has nearly ten large customers and about 200 small customers, Ebner told the “NZZ” in the conversation mentioned four years ago. Among the private equity investments is the Bernese mechanical engineering company United Grinding, which BZ Bank was able to take over in 2018 with a pool of investors from the Hamburg industrial group Körber. Fust sees BZ Bank as an ideal investment to expand the diversification of the state bank’s revenue streams, which remains primarily interest-based.

The gentleman in the bow tie prepares buns

Compared to previous years, Ebner and BZ Bank today only produce relatively small buns. The “fly”, as the speculator was known in the financial world in his heyday due to his prominent tie, knows the ups and downs of the stock market through long personal experience. In the 1990s, he led companies like UBS, ABB, Credit Suisse and Roche past him to cut them on the shareholder value line. In addition to a hand-picked number of big clients, he also grew rich. The private fortune of the self-made capitalist would have amounted to more than three billion francs. After the stock market crash in 2002, he had less than 60 million francs left, as Ebner told the judge in 2003 when he won a case for insider trading in Pirelli shares.

Ebner fought back with the help of powerful friends and with necessary toughness. In 2020, the Swiss federal prosecutor issued a criminal order for insider trading against a former bank executive. In the spring of 2021, he was acquitted by the Federal Criminal Court with costs. In appeal proceedings conducted in January 2022, the accused was again acquitted. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office wants to decide on the procedure to follow after the filing of the reasons for the judgment, announced the authority on request.

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