SWITZERLAND - Beat Wittmann, chief executive of investment products at Swiss private banking group Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd., is to depart after less than a year in the job amid a major rethink of strategy.

Wittmann, the former CEO of investment products at Credit Suisse's Clariden Leu, joined Baer at the start of this year with a brief to integrate the investment arm of its private bank with its European asset management division. He previously worked for 10 years at UBS Asset Management.

As recently as last month Wittmann was upbeat about prospects at Baer, despite the reported departures of seven team members. His profile has already been deleted from the bank's web site.

The firm said in a statement today: "Given the market environment, Bank Julius Baer is re-evaluating all business initiatives to ensure that resources are deployed to the most attractive opportunities.

"Therefore the Investment Products division will be even further aligned with Private Banking to maximise efficiency and service quality while the expansion of the fund range will be de-emphasised. This will allow Bank Julius Baer to greater focus its resources on the proven, still attractive growth opportunities to expand its private banking operations.

"Given these changes, Beat Wittmann, CEO of the Investment Products division, after advising on the transition, will be leaving the Group to pursue other opportunities."

Baer said its assets under management were impacted in the year so far "by the large market declines across most asset classes, client withdrawals within Asset Management as well as the strengthening of the Swiss Franc against European currencies, partly offset by significant net new money in Private Banking".

Baer said the asset management industry faced a "challenging environment" through October with private and retail clients redeeming assets from hedge and equity funds. But the "sophisticated institutional segment" increased allocations during the period.

US fund subsidiary Artio Global Investors saw positive year-to-date inflows - "supported by the strength of the large institutional client base". Baer added it would make an initial public offering for the unit "when market conditions allow".

Baer's net operating income through October was down by around 10% against the prior year period; it said it "continues to enjoy a sound balance sheet with low leverage, and a solid capital base".