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Horta-Osório tightens his grip at Credit Suisse

Former Lloyds Banking Group CEO António Horta-Osório joined Credit Suisse as chair in April Keystone / Andy Rain

Credit Suisse’s new chair António Horta-Osório has taken on more executive duties at the Swiss bank in what insiders describe as a power grab that has diluted the authority of chief executive Thomas Gottstein.

This content was published on September 13, 2021 - 09:33
Financial Times, Stephen Morris, Owen Walker and Arash Massoudi in London, Joshua Franklin in New York

Former Lloyds Banking Group CEO Horta-Osório joined as chair of the Swiss lender in April, in the immediate aftermath of twin crises involving family office Archegos Capital and specialist finance firm Greensill Capital.

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In his first 134 days in charge, the Portuguese-British banker — who was knighted in June for his role in rejuvenating Lloyds following the financial crisis — has stamped his authority on Credit Suisse by placing close allies on the board and executive team. He has also significantly expanded his own office and is taking a direct role in decision making, as he tries to repair the scandal-hit bank, according to people familiar with the matter.

The moves have sparked discussion among the bank’s executive ranks about Gottstein’s position as CEO. It has also fed growing whispers in Zurich that Horta-Osório has designs on taking over the CEO role, something which other senior figures in the bank deny outright.

“For now [Horta-Osório] is trying to mentor and coach him,” said a person with knowledge of their relationship.

“There is a belief that Thomas was thrown into it without background or training and perhaps he could do the job with mentorship. There is the desire to give him a chance, but there is no guarantee that it will work out.”

“Tactical crisis committee”

At the heart of the changes is the introduction of a “tactical crisis committee” that was set up to deal with the fallout from the Archegos and Greensill scandals, but now acts as the bank’s “nerve centre”, according to several people with knowledge of its workings.

The TCC, as it is known internally, consists of Horta-Osório, Richard Meddings, chair of the board’s audit and risk committees, and Christian Gellerstad, chair of the board’s conduct and financial crime control committee.

“The three meet with Thomas [Gottstein] and David [Mathers, chief financial officer] and other execs frequently,” said a person involved in the process. “Antonio is giving orders to Thomas at these meetings. They are his decisions.”

The TCC predates Horta-Osório’s arrival and was set up under agreement with the Swiss regulator, Finma, as part of a response to the Archegos and Greensill scandals.

Since Horta-Osório joined it has also taken responsibility for overseeing reviews of the group’s risk management and strategy. As recently as August it met every week, but now meets fortnightly.

At least two of Credit Suisse’s top investors said they supported Horta-Osório’s tighter grip.

Archegos/Greensill

A Swiss banking executive who is close to Horta-Osório said his next focus would be on rejuvenating the executive team.

“One of the problems of Credit Suisse in recent years is that people at board level had no real banking competence,” he said. “Antonio addressed it right away and now he is looking at the management level — they don’t have strong experience in the banking sector.”

In July, Credit Suisse published a damning report by law firm Paul Weiss into its handling of the Archegos collapse. In excruciating detail, it spelt out the failures that led to a $5.5 billion trading loss for the bank, its biggest in its 165-year history.

The TCC is overseeing a similar probe into the relationship with Greensill, which led to the liquidation of $10 billion of investment funds.

Most of the work has been carried out with the investigation uncovering many of the same problems exposed by the Archegos report, including a permissive commercial relationship with clients and a culture of lax risk management.

The findings of the investigation are expected to be made public by the lender’s third-quarter results on November 4, even if the full report is not expected to be released.

Credit Suisse declined to comment.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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