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Credit Suisse’s New Chairman Signals Possible Shakeup After Woes

This content was published on April 30, 2021 - 12:53

(Bloomberg) -- Credit Suisse Group AG Chairman Antonio Horta-Osorio said he plans a thorough assessment of the bank’s “strategic options” after the twin hits from the collapse of Archegos Capital Management and Greensill Capital eroded confidence.

While he backed Chief Executive Officer Thomas Gottstein at the bank’s annual general meeting, the new chairman left little doubt about his appetite for change. The recent missteps at the Swiss lender, he said, went beyond any crises he had lived through over three-and-a-half decades working at banks.

“We will take the time required for an in-depth assessment of the bank’s strategic options,” said Horta-Osorio, who succeeded Urs Rohner on Friday. “Then we will decide on a course of action and closely oversee the execution.”

The comments are the clearest indication yet that the former head of Lloyds Banking Group Plc is planning to take a hands-on approach in his new role. Analysts and executives have suggested his options include reducing capital allocated to the investment bank; selling parts of the business to deepen its focus on wealth management; acquiescing to an acquirer; or merging with its larger neighbor in Zurich, UBS Group AG.

During the meeting, both CEO Gottstein and outgoing chairman Rohner apologized for the recent scandals, with Gottstein saying they’d “left their mark” on him. He pledged to lead the company into “calmer waters.” That came after yet another senior departure, after the bank said risk committee head Andreas Gottschling would be leaving the board.

The CEO is battling to rescue his short tenure after Credit Suisse was hit harder than any other competitor by the collapse of Archegos, the family office of U.S. investor Bill Hwang. The timing of the blowup could hardly have been worse, coming just weeks after Credit Suisse found itself at the center of the Greensill Capital scandal, when it was forced to suspend investment funds.

The missteps were even more painful because other lenders to Archegos including Deutsche Bank AG managed to avoid losses altogether. The German rival had been known for lapses in controls until a restructuring two years ago. As part of that plan, it quit most equities trading and is in the process of exiting the prime brokerage business that caters to hedge funds.

Credit Suisse has said it plans a sweeping overhaul of its prime services at the center of the Archegos losses, including slashing lending to such clients by a third. Gottstein has also signaled he’s considering further separating the asset-management unit from the rest of the bank after the Greensill Capital collapse.

Rohner, who had largely deflected shareholder criticism of his role, acknowledged that the recent weeks “cast a shadow” over the bank.

“We’ve disappointed not just our clients but also our shareholders, and not for the first time unfortunately,” Rohner said. “I offer my apologies for this.”

In the run up to Friday’s annual general meeting, influential shareholders including Norway’s sovereign wealth fund and Harris Associates had heaped pressure on the board by calling for the removal of Gottschling and other prominent board members, including lead independent director and Roche Holding AG CEO Severin Schwan.

The twin debacles of Archegos and Greensill -- while sparing Gottstein -- caused tumult across Credit Suisse’s senior management. Investment banking head Brian Chin and Chief Risk Officer Lara Warner were among the highest-profile casualties, while the bank’s head of equities and co-heads of prime brokerage are also being replaced.

Horta-Osorio, who cut thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in costs during a decade at Lloyds, said that apart from strategy, he also wants to focus risk management and the bank’s culture in coming months.

The new position marks a return to investment banking for the Portuguese banker, after 15 years focused on retail. Before joining Lloyds, he ran Banco Santander SA’s British unit, as well as spending time in the U.S., Portugal and Brazil for various lenders.

“I have personally worked at and led several banks in different countries and have lived through many crises,” he said. “What has happened with Credit Suisse over the last eight weeks, with the U.S.-based hedge fund and the supply chain finance funds matters, certainly goes beyond that.”

(Updates with strategic options in fourth paragraph, Deutsche Bank comparison in seventh, prime brokerage overhaul in eighth.)

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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