SWITZERLAND - Swiss bank Julius Baer has named former Credit Suisse executive Alex Widmer as chief executive, effective from the start of next year.

The bank, which has CHF145bn (€93.7bn) in assets under management, said the 49-year-old private banking executive would take over from Walter Knabenhans, who is stepping down after five years at the helm.

Raymond Baer, the bank’s chairman, said Knabenhans had “laid the strategic groundwork for the bank’s future course and sustained profitability growth” amid difficult markets.

“Now we have managed to attract a particularly prominent private banking executive in Alex Widmer. The board of directors is convinced that he will successfully push forward the bank’s existing growth strategy and entry into new markets,” Raymond Baer added.

The bank also said Thomas Meier, currently director of private wealth management at Deutsche Bank in Luxembourg, would become its new private banking head on January 1 2006.

Knabenhans had been acting head of private banking since last January after the departure of former head Michael Baer. A spokesman said Knabenhans, 54, would continue to act as an advisor to Julius Baer’s board following his retirement.

Separately, the bank said that part of Baer family, including the chairman Raymond Baer, had formed a new shareholders’ pool that owns 6% of Julius Baer. The other 94% of the bank’s share capital is either in the hands of other Baer family members or in free float.

Said Raymond Baer: “This new shareholders’ pool underscores the family’s ongoing commitment to the bank and makes it possible to include additional family-owned shares when the time is right.”