(Bloomberg) -- Julius Baer Ltd. kicked off an effort to find a successor for Chief Executive Officer Bernhard Hodler little more than a year after he got the job, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Swiss bank’s incoming chairman Romeo Lacher has held informal discussions with potential candidates about leading the country’s third-largest wealth manager, one of the people said. The bank is bench-marking internal and external candidates for the top job and is also seeking to strengthen the executive board, two people said.

Hodler, 58, who took over 16 months ago after the unexpected resignation of Boris Collardi, was previously chief risk officer, heading up compliance as the bank’s assets under management swelled. After a decade of rapid expansion, the bank’s chief executive officer is confronting the slowdown and shrinking assets. He’s also sharpening the focus on vetting clients after the conviction and sentencing to 10 years in jail of a former manager who dealt with Venezuelan clients.

The bank’s shares fell more than any other large Swiss-listed company last year -- before recovering this year -- while a team of Middle East advisers defected en masse to rival Banque Pictet & Cie SA. Collardi, who left to take on a lucrative partnership at Pictet in 2017, has been working to attract private bankers and their clients from rivals including his former employer. Pictet poached the team of 18 including Daniel Savary, Julius Baer’s top banker for the Middle East and Africa, at the end of last year.

Markets Tumble

Banks and asset managers across Europe reported a tough end to 2018 as markets tumbled in the last two months of the year, causing clients to pull money out of stocks and hoard cash. Julius Baer Group cut financial targets and pledged cost reductions that include eliminating about 140 jobs after its asset shrank, while other Swiss banks reported declines in assets and slowing net new money growth.

Still, Julius Baer’s shares have gained more than a quarter this year as markets bounced back and the bank’s stock recovered faster than rivals. The stock closed 0.9 percent higher on Thursday.

Chairman Daniel Sauter announced his departure in January and will be replaced by Lacher in April, subject to shareholder approval. Julius Baer’s nomination committee, headed by Vice-Chairman Charles Stonehill, is responsible for CEO succession planning.

(Adds closing share price in sixth paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Winters in Zurich at pwinters3@bloomberg.net;Jan-Henrik Förster in Zurich at jforster20@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Dale Crofts at dcrofts@bloomberg.net, Jan Dahinten

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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