Opinion: The one thing Deutsche Bank can′t promise | Opinion | DW | 19.10.2015
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Opinion: The one thing Deutsche Bank can't promise

The new head of Germany's biggest lender means business: John Cryan has announced a radical overhaul aimed at "building a better bank." The change of course is bold, says DW's Henrik Böhme, but fraught with peril.

John Cryan couldn't wait any longer. The newly appointed co-CEO wasn't expected to unveil his roadmap for the German banking giant until the end of the month, when the Frankfurt-based behemoth is expected to post a third-quarter 6.2-billion ($7-billion) loss. But now the cat is out of the bag, following a whirlwind meeting of the board of directors on Sunday.

If this weekend's press release is any indication, the shake-up will send a jolt through Deutsche Bank's top ranks, catapulting several executives from their seats. Of the four pages emailed to reporters, half was reserved for the names and positions of those joining, and, more notably, those leaving the lender. Many of them closely aligned with Cryan's embattled predecessor, Anshu Jain, who was ousted in June. And many of them responsible for one of the worst scandals to ever hit the bank.

Deeds, not words

Some three months into his tenure, it's becoming clear that the 54-year-old Cryan is not wasting any time cleaning up the mess at one of the world's biggest financial houses. By reshuffling the upper echelons at Deutsche Bank's Twin Towers, the British outsider appears to be removing any internal obstacles that could keep him from achieving his goals.

The pressure to deliver is bigger than ever after Jain and co-captain Jürgen Fitschen's management style left shareholders fuming, culminating in a revolt at the annual general meeting in May. The two came under fire after failing to stem a flood of lawsuits and billions in legal costs, picking fights with Germany's financial watchdog, BaFin, over fighting festering problems within the company.

Deutsche Welle Henrik Böhme Chefredaktion GLOBAL Wirtschaft

DW's Henrik Böhme

While Jain threw in the towel weeks later, Fitschen managed to hold on to his executive chair. But it's John Cryan, the designated chief executive, who is now calling the shots. "This is no longer about words, but deeds," he told shareholders and investors when he took over in July. In the 100 days since, it's become clear he meant that literally: Barely a peep, let alone a single appearance before the press since the Brit took office. It's all about the deeds.

Exhibit A: The revamp unveiled this weekend, less than two weeks after Deutsche Bank warned it was bracing for a record third-quarter loss. And it might just be what the doctor ordered.

Tough balancing act

By injecting some new blood into the bank's top brass, Cryan is seeking to put an end to the nepotism that's hampered the change to the corporate culture the company so badly needs.

However, it is the radical reshaping of Deutsche Bank's structure that's likely to have the biggest impact - especially, the decision to overhaul its investment banking business. Granted, this division was the biggest profit-making machine when Jain was pulling the lever in Frankfurt, but it was also the main engine driving the cheating that threatened to ruin the bank's image.

While Cryan has demonstrated he is ready to tackle the challenge of restoring the company's reputation head-on, he is facing a tough balancing act of making the right incisions without leaving too much blood on the carpet. And that could prove difficult as he turns his attention from the top brass to the lower levels of the Twin Towers. Observers warn thousands of jobs could be at risk.

No guarantees

In the face of such uncertainty, how will the 54-year-old commander-in-chief keep his troops marching on - even if it means biting the bullet for the company? Many were hoping for an answer from Cryan himself later this month. He and Fitschen were due to present the final details of the bank's five-year roadmap on October 29. But, true to form, the stealth Brit is now expected to cancel the press conference, leaving reporters to parse the lines of a written statement. Deeds, not words.

But for all the talk of walking the walk, we've seen little more than big announcements, and grand gestures. For now, that's enough to keep shareholders clapping. But soon they'll want something to show for it: profits. No matter how bad John Cryan wants to deliver, that's the one thing he can't guarantee.

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