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Business

Resignation and liberation at Deutsche Bank

The resignation of Deutsche Bank's co-CEOs has shaken Frankfurt, Germany's financial center. As profound as the move was, it didn't come as a surprise, writes DW's Henrik Böhme. The duo simply caved under the pressure.

Perhaps Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen figured the media buzz around the G7 summit in Elmau, Germany, would be enough to distract people from their abrupt resignation. But not even Merkel hosting leaders from the world's major industrialized countries could soften the impact of the co-chief executives of Germany's largest lender throwing in the towel.

What's more, they didn't even leave of their own accord. They simply weren't in a position to get the bank back on track after a string of costly and disgraceful scandals.

Deutsche Welle Henrik Böhme Chefredaktion GLOBAL Wirtschaft

DW senior business editor Henrik Böhme

In the end, the pressure from discontented shareholders got to be too much. Just two and a half weeks ago at the bank's general shareholders meeting, the duo was lambasted by attendees - a mere 60 percent of whom expressed support for Jain and Fitschen in a confidence vote. Such votes traditionally register an approval rating of at least 95 percent.

A few days later, a leaflet from the bank's staff council began circulating around the Frankfurt headquarters' cafeteria. The author used a pun to more or less call for Jain to step down. Instead of "Winds of Change," he or she wrote, "Winds of Jain."

Jain's role

The 52-year-old with Indian roots is regarded by many of the bank's critics as the source of much evil. He presided over Deutsche's investment banking in London for many years with great success. Before the financial crisis, the boys of the City felt like they were coolest kids in school, at one time proclaiming themselves the "masters of the universe."

But as substantial as their arrogance was, the wealth they had accumulated was far greater. As the global finance system was on the brink of collapse and banks were being rescued with billions of tax dollars, Jain's former boss, Josef Ackermann, boasted that he would not accept any federal assistance. He didn't need to. Jain's money machine had supplied enough.

The bank is still paying the price to this day. It is currently fighting around 6,000 legal battles and its profits are summarily eaten up by penalties, litigation costs and settlements. When Jain and his co-CEO Fitschen took over from Ackermann in summer 2012, there was a certain sense of foreboding. Would Jain the Shark take control with Fitschen as an accomplice and a scapegoat for when he needed Deutsche Bank to be more "deutsch?"

While other banks were busy cleaning up their acts and hatching new, legitimate strategies, it was business as usual in Frankfurt. Sure, a cultural change was prescribed, but the results are barely visible today.

A few weeks ago, the duo finally presented a new strategy after much wrangling. But even then, the reaction from analysts and shareholders was damning. It was too little, they said, and too despondent. The bank's share price has dipped lower and lower. The bank's market value is less than the assets in its books. A tragedy indeed.

A Herculean task

At one of his last press conference as CEO, Jain was asked why he refused to learn from the obvious mistakes he made during his tenure in London. Jain's answer? Yes, he was in charge at the time, but the best thing that he could do now would be to take responsibility and make sure that such a thing never happened again. That was the wrong answer. The right answer didn't come until Sunday when he announced his resignation.

Of course, Jain is taking Fitschen down with him. The bank has to stomach that loss - and it will. The new head honcho, John Cryan, faces a Herculean task that is anything but enviable. He is tasked with getting Germany's only international lender back on course. He has some radical decisions to make - and there's no guarantee that he'll succeed.

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