UBS Dress Code

On 12/16/2010, in Professionalism, by Jordan Wilson

So you want a career in Swiss banking?

I know my nephew does, but I suspect he conflates Swiss banking with becoming a fry cook.

UBS, the Swiss banking giant and a former employer of mine, has issued a dress code for its Swiss retail staff.

Fortunately I left the Bank before this was implemented. Otherwise I would need a whole new wardrobe to replace my leisure suits and clip-on ties. The nose ring as well.

An article by The Wall Street Journal nicely summarizes the code.

While possibly seeming draconian to many readers, it is not too out of line. And I found that in Switzerland, most staff would meet these guidelines anyway. Whether on their own initiative or due to superiors pointing them in the “right” dress direction.

My Thoughts

I am of two minds on these dress codes.

On the one hand, I do believe that employees represent their firms at all times.

When meeting with clients, they should dress in a professional manner that befits the corporate image. The question mark is who defines the professional manner. Some of the things UBS requests are outside my own view. And, I am certain that others have more relaxed standards than I.

On the other hand, as a customer or employer my main concern is service quality.

I want my advisors and staff to complete their functions on time and with work of the highest quality. Whether that person is wearing a watch or a bracelet is of no consequence.

A Little Advice

For new employees starting out in your career, a little advice.

One, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Very true in the business world. I have seen many an employee err initially and they have to work doubly hard to erase that first, negative, impression.

Two, it is always safer to overdress than underdress.

If in doubt, dress conservative. As you become acclimatized to your new environment, you can tone down as appropriate. Of course, use some common sense (or search the internet for assistance) as to what is conservative for the job at hand. Tuxedos probably are not suitable for for office work and suits may not be appropriate for plumbers and electricians.

Three, when in doubt, ask before you start.

Your employer will appreciate the fact that you are interested in making the proper impression in your job.

Four, invest in yourself.

You do not need to visit Savile Row for clothes, but I suggest you spend a little money on your wardrobe. It will send a positive signal to management that you are a professional and I am convinced it does help one’s career.

Five, do not overlook the small things.

Old shoes can ruin the effect of a nice suit. The same with a bad haircut or a suit without a belt.

One person I once worked with had some bad body odor that staff could not share an office and management did not want this person meeting clients. Not a recipe for advancement.

Six, sometimes it is out of your control.

Unfortunately, what is important is how others perceive you. You need to deal with that if you want a strong career.

A colleague of mine at UBS was an incredibly gifted and hard working employee. But every time he met with his boss, the boss always fixated on the man’s lack of belt and occasionally frayed shirts. That took away from the perceived quality of the employee’s work.

Some people I know hire consultants to help them design wardrobes and guidelines that best match their personalities and physiques. That might be a worthwhile investment when starting out in the business world.

To my friends still at UBS, good luck with the changes. I know some former colleagues outside Switzerland are probably hoping this code never extends to them.

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