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Analysis: Credit Suisse in search of new map after losing way with Archegos

Stock MarketsApr 07, 2021 12:35PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse is seen in Bern

By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Oliver Hirt

ZURICH (Reuters) - Thomas Gottstein may have acted decisively enough this week to stay as Credit Suisse (SIX:CSGN) chief executive, but investors are likely to want more radical action after the bank's $4.7 billion loss from the Archegos hedge fund scandal.

Credit Suisse shares have dropped by 25% in the space of a month, with Switzerland's second biggest bank reeling from its exposure to the collapse first of Greensill Capital and then Archegos Capital Management.

This has left 57-year-old Swiss citizen Gottstein facing the daunting task of limiting the longer-term damage to the bank's reputation and retaining both clients and staff.

"It's very disappointing what has happened in the last few months - it's well below the standard we have expected," one investor in Credit Suisse debt told Reuters.

Yet Gottstein's hands will be tied until Antonio Horta-Osorio, known as AHO to some of the staff at Britain's Lloyds (LON:LLOY) where he is CEO, is installed as chairman, analysts and investors said, adding that the deeper impact is yet to be felt.

"The full consequences from the reputational loss will only be visible over time," Andreas Venditti, an analyst at Vontobel bank, said of the recent events.

Credit Suisse said on Tuesday that it would take a 4.4 billion Swiss franc ($4.71 billion) charge after Archegos "failed" to meet margin commitments.

The scale of the charge, which is close to three times the investment bank's profit last year, far eclipses the $2.3 billion rogue trader loss at rival UBS in 2011.

Swiss banks have not been afraid to jettison CEOs if things do not go to plan. The rogue trader affair triggered the departure of Oswald Grubel from UBS, while Gottstein's predecessor Tidjane Thiam was ousted over a spying scandal.

Gottstein, a former investment banker and wealth manager who only took the helm a year ago, has responded quickly, replacing the head of the investment bank and the bank's risk chief.

This followed his announcement that Credit Suisse's asset management unit was to be separated from its wealth business after it was forced to shut $10 billion of funds that invested solely in bonds issued by Greensill.

WAITING FOR AHO

Investors expect broader changes will be hard to undertake until two externally-conducted inquiries into Archegos and Greensill and the change of chairman are complete.

"This transition is a job guarantee for Thomas Gottstein in the short term," a source familiar with the matter said.

Urs Rohner, who has been at the bank since 2011, is due to leave Credit Suisse at the end of April, with retail banking specialist Horta-Osório due to be elected at the upcoming annual shareholder meeting.

"We hope that the change of chairman planned for the next AGM will allow the establishment of a new corporate culture with a more focused approach on risk management," Ethos, a firm which advises shareholders on how to vote at AGMs, said.

Ethos has asked that the two investigations examine the board's accountability and the results are made public.

The change of chairman has posed problems for some seeking reassurance during a turbulent time for the bank.

"I don't really know who to turn to," one senior advisor said, adding: "Gottstein has been weakened, Rohner will be gone soon and Horta-Osorio hasn't arrived yet. Everything is in flux, but leadership is needed now."

A source close to Credit Suisse said that were it not for the planned change of chairman, the bank might already have embarked on significant structural changes.

In the interim, Credit Suisse has been combing through exposures in its brokerage prime services, another source said, and a more thorough review is expected to result in it reducing risk within the unit and its broader investment bank.

The more immediate concern is if clients and some of its top employees shift away following the most recent scandals.

One headhunter in Hong Kong said that he had received several inquiries from employees in Credit Suisse's markets business looking to leave in the wake of the Archegos scandal.

The chairman of a wealth management boutique in Monaco said he saw a chance to lure some top Credit Suisse private bankers.

"For someone like us, as a boutique, and other competitors of Credit Suisse, it's a great opportunity to gain more market share with the ultra high net worth segment," the wealth manager, who declined to be named, added.

Credit Suisse declined comment on a potential loss of staff.

Christian Meissner, who is to take charge of the investment bank following Chin's exit, has been tasked with retaining talent and winning business in areas where Credit Suisse is doing well, such as listing special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), a source close to the Austrian banker said.

"People won't quit just yet, they would need to find new jobs first and this gives Meissner time to show they can still be competitive and win mandates," the source said.

Gottstein told Swiss newspaper NZZ on Tuesday that he still believed in the "one bank" model where divisions work together to serve wealthy clients, saying it "enhances" risk management.

If he sticks with the model, he will need to map a path to profitability, while keeping a much tighter rein on risk.

"They've lost earnings and they won't get it back until they find another way," Jason Teh, chief investment officer at Vertum Asset Management in Sydney, said.

($1 = 0.9336 Swiss francs)

Analysis: Credit Suisse in search of new map after losing way with Archegos
 

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