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With mega-tight regulation for Swiss bank UBS, what are the challenges of going social and mobile, and how do they market to ultra high net worth (UHNW) customers?

At Mobile Marketing Live last week, I listened to Shane Williams, Head of Mobile Development for Platform Services at UBS. I had no idea just what a minefield it is to market a bank, especially in Switzerland.

UBS provides wealth management services for around half the billionaires in the world. It also has plenty of retail branches in Switzerland and an investment arm.

Acting in many countries, UBS is beholden to hundreds of regulators, including FINMA in Switzerland, the SEC in America, and the FCA and PRA in the United Kingdom.

Navigating the barriers to mobile and social usage is massively impacted by Swiss law, which says a bank can’t reveal who its customers are. This is enshrined in law in much the same way as patient-doctor confidentiality.

It even means that UBS has to be careful about knowing the IP addresses of customers using their services, as this can be tied to an address and perhaps a person.

If UBS uses social networks, it has to moderate all comments because any comment on products of other banks is potentially investigable by regulators.

UBS also can’t be seen to recommend any products, especially in the US. On top of this, the bank, like a lot prestigious brands and companies after UHNW customers, is incredibly sensitive to risk and very protective of its brand.

So the challenge for UBS is to navigate these difficulties. Here are some of the takeaways from Shane’s talk.

Closed group marketing: a personalised app for billionaires!

Fascinatingly, UBS created an app for 30 or so billionaires in the UHNW category (over $50m spending money).

Each app was personalised to its user (they were handed an iPad at an F1 event) and the UBS mobile dev team were on site to manage the experience, adding features such as a personal photo library as the day went on.

Shane explained that the regulation around customer names was so tight, they effectively had a war room with numbered pictures of customers, compiling photo albums without referring to anyone by name.


The apps have to be sure not to garner information from their users in case this can lead to the identifying of customers. To that end:

  • No free text forms in apps, so no questions or personal info can be added.
  • No logging in to apps, for the same reason.

And with social media:

  • The recording of all social communication in LinkedIn and on Twitter is mandated, keeping it safely should the regulators require it. Nevertheless, UBS has some active social channels.
  • Tweeting can apparently take days! Getting clearance from legal is a long old process.

Over 30 apps

UBS apps are all free. They include a store locator, a prices and earnings comparison app, a funds manager and some tied in to UBS’s extensive sponsorship across F1, the Guggenheim, Art Basel and many local intitiatives.

Go check them out in the app store! And if you work in mobile, don't assume you know red tape until you've worked for a Swiss bank.

Ben Davis

Published 7 October, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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