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Business

Have some humility and modesty, please

Deutsche Bank is mired in crisis and there is no improvement in sight. Shareholder confidence is gone. The lender needs to drastically change its course - and fast, says Henrik Böhme.

One hundred billion euros is no pittance. That's how much the world's leading banks have shelled out since the financial crisis began for fines, settlements and litigation fees. Speaking of scandal-plagued banks - what about Germany's No. 1 lender? Most recently, Deutsche Bank had to pay $2.5 billion for its role in manipulating interest rates.

It borders on the miraculous that the Frankfurt-based bankers were able to walk away from the regulators' latest sweep scot-free. On the eve of Deutsche's annual shareholders meeting, the news broke that six major banks would be fined $5.6 billion after their currency traders were found to have rigged foreign exchange markets. Deutsche Bank was not among them.

But that doesn't mean that everything's rosy. On the contrary, the bank's traders and brokers in Frankfurt and in its London investment center were deeply entangled in the wheelings and dealings and chicanery that eventually brought to global finanial system to its knees. Disguise, deceit and deceive - those were the maxims. Not to mention cashing out. But that greed wasn't only coming from the "masters of the universe," as those traders and brokers so modestly called themselves.

DW senior business editor Henrik Böhme

DW senior business editor Henrik Böhme

Irrepressible avarice

The targets passed down from the bank's upper echelons were unambiguous: All capital should glean at least a 25 percent return on investment. That's what Josef Ackermann once said. He picked up where others before him had left off. It was Alfred Herrhausen who wanted to restructure Deutsche Bank to more closely resemble a major international financial institution according to an Anglo-Saxon model. But it was a clever trader with a lightning-fast wit and Indian roots who ultimately shaped the bank to its current form. His name was Anshu Jain. He was the head of Deutsche's investment banking division and the one pulling the handle when the machine rang out, "Jackpot!" Even today, Jain denies having had any knowledge of the manipulation and trickery that was going on while he was at the helm. But can that really be? And if so, what kind of boss could miss something so huge?

For almost three years now, Jain has been co-CEO of Deutsche Bank along with Jürgen Fitschen. And it's probably only a matter of time before he takes the reins completely. What the future has in store for the bank was made crystal clear during Thursday's general investors meeting when Jain switched to his native English to finish his speech. As soon as it came time for the audience to ask questions, Jain disappeared from the stage. Fitschen, his other half, was left to do the answering. What a bizarre division of labor!

Something is very wrong

The future of Deutsche Bank looks anything but rosy. The new strategy is half-hearted at best; its committment to Germany as a base of operations doubly so. As for what fees the bank may still face, the managers have no answer. When a bank pays its 2,000 top investment bankers around 2 billion euros, but begrudges its 600,000 shareholders only a billion in dividends, something is indeed very wrong.

There's nothing at all wrong with Germany having at least one bank that can play in the big leagues. But why not try to play fair, with humility and modesty? Why not strive to be a servant of the economy? It's worth a shot. Otherwise the bank's upcoming 150-year anniversary won't be worth celebrating at all.