Deutsche Bank’s new CEO just went wild with the axe

October 29, 2015, 5:55 PM UTC
Deutsche Bank Announces 2012 Financial Results
FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 29: A woman with a umbrella passes a logo of Deutsche Bank on January 29, 2013 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The annual results press conference for 2012 takes place on Thursday, January 31, 2013. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Photograph by Thomas Lohnes — Getty Images

Deutsche Bank AG (DB) is to cut 15,000 jobs and pull out of 10 countries across the world. It’s the latest sign that new co-chief executive John Cryan wants to make the sprawling giant simpler, less risky and more efficient. It also shows that he’s going to follow the pack.

Deutsche, Germany’s largest bank by far, is the latest among Europe’s blue-chip banks to change direction after failing to coming to terms with the radical overhaul of banking regulation and supervision across the globe since 2008, a process that has exposed Deutsche’s poor cost control and dubious governance.

In the tried-and-tested tradition of new CEOs of front-loading as much restructuring pain as possible, Cryan also confirmed Thursday he’ll suspend dividend payouts for this year and next. He’d already announced the bank would take a €7.6 billion ($8.4 billion) charge against earnings for the quarter, something that swung the bank to a net loss of €6.0 billion. A lot of that is due to the previously announced disposal of Deutsche Postbank, a German retail bank with 20,000 employees and chronically low profit margins. But it also contained an almost routine €1 billion addition to provisions against litigation risks (now standing at €4.8 billion), and a €649 million hit on its 20% stake in China’s Hua Xia Bank, underlining how badly it had been caught out by the economic slowdown and market volatility there.

The bank is getting out entirely from countries where it isn’t big enough to make a difference, mostly in Latin America (notably including Mexico) and in Europe. It’s also getting out of a number of businesses that new regulation has made too expensive, especially in the more exotic niches of bond, credit and interest rate trading. Deutsche says it will cut 14,000 employees, but since it plans to continue hiring the net drop in headcount will only be 9,000. In addition, Deutsche is axing another 6,000 contractor positions, mostly from its IT department.

One of Cryan’s top priorities is to get Deutsche’s capital ratios up to a level that will finally end the running battle it has had with U.S. regulators for over a decade: the target is for a risk-adjusted ratio of capital-to-assets of 12.5% by the end of 2018, up from 11.4% today, and an unadjusted ratio (also known as the Leverage Ratio) of 4.5%, rising to 5% by 2020. Deutsche’s leverage ratio has been a particular headache, owing to the size of its vast trading and derivatives businesses.

To that end, Deutsche is going to end relations with half of the clients of its Global Markets and Corporate and Investment Bank divisions, “especially those in higher operating risk countries.” It wasn’t clear if this would include Russia, where it has suspended some senior staff on suspicion of having assisted money-laundering by sanctioned associates of President Vladimir Putin.

The silver lining for Deutsche’s shareholders is that Cryan has managed at least to avoid a new stock sale that would dilute shareholders by pushing most of the pain on to employees and, to a lesser extent, clients. However, the stock market Thursday appeared more concerned by the fact that, after three years of austerity, the bank still doesn’t expect to earn any more than 10% a year on its equity–no higher than the target under the Jain/Fitschen tandem.

Cryan may have won plaudits for dishing out the pain, but both staff and shareholders might wonder when, if ever, they’ll see the gain.


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