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Associated Press, Published January 18 2011

Swiss bank to change mocked dress code

GENEVA – Good news for Swiss bankers: They may soon be allowed to wear red underwear, black nail polish – and even eat garlic.

Swiss banking giant UBS AG said Monday that it’s revising its 44-page dress code telling its Swiss staff how to present themselves, which generated worldwide ridicule for its micromanagement of their dressing and dining habits.

The code instructs employees on everything from their breath – no garlic or onions, please – to their underwear, which should be skin-colored.

“We’re reviewing what is important to us,” UBS spokesman Andreas Kern told The Associated Press.

He said the bank would issue a pared-down booklet with more general guidelines on how to impress customers with a polished presence and sense of Swiss precision and decorum.

The existing code tells female employees how to apply makeup, what kind of perfume to wear and what color stockings are acceptable. It advises them not to show roots if they color their hair and to avoid black nail polish.

“You can extend the life of your knee socks and stockings by keeping your toenails trimmed and filed,” Zurich-based UBS told its female staff. “Always have a spare pair: stockings can be provisionally repaired with transparent nail polish and a bit of luck.”

Men are told how to knot a tie, to make sure they get a haircut every month and to avoid unruly beards and earrings.

“Glasses should always be kept clean,” the code instructs. “On the one hand this gives you optimal vision, and on the other hand dirty glasses create an appearance of negligence.”

The guidelines also recommended that employees always wear wristwatches to signal “trustworthiness and a serious concern for punctuality.”

The UBS style guide prompted derision and disbelief when it first surfaced last month, but Kern insisted it was still good for the bank’s reputation in the long run.

“Everyone knows the staff in our banks strive for the perfect look,” he said.

So will employees now be able to wear red underwear? Who checked to see if they did before? Kern declined to give specific examples of planned changes.

A spokesman for rival bank Credit Suisse said he understands what UBS was trying to achieve.

“Every Swiss bank with private or retail customers has some sort of guidelines,” Marc Dosch said. “UBS has taken it to absurd lengths, but in general it’s a good thing that people have some guidance.”

He noted that banks aren’t alone in telling their employees what to wear: “There are gas stations, burger bars and supermarkets where you have to wear ties, and even silly hats at Christmas,” he said.

The 157-year-old UBS has a history of providing detailed advice for its employees, which numbered 65,000 worldwide at the end of 2009. A handbook for bank trainees gives a country-by-country behavior guide.

In Russia, it tells employees to be prepared to hold your drink at business engagements and to “never reject an invitation to the sauna.”

In Latin America, “turning up before an appointment might even be considered rude.”

And in the United States, it says, “never criticize the President.”


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