80 percent resign suddenly or by force

Gut 14 years after the bankruptcy of the US bank Lehman Brothers, which triggered the biggest banking and financial crisis since the 1920s and 1930s in September 2008, the financial sector appears to have recovered. Already during the Corona and now also in the energy crisis, the banks prevented corporate insolvencies with their loans and liquidity aids and are therefore “part of the solution”, says Christian Sewing, since April 2018 CEO of Deutsche Bank and from next spring also President of the European Banking Association, like a mantra. Even if a lot of this is true, an as yet unpublished study by Strategy&, the strategy consultancy of the auditor PWC, shows that there has not been much continuity at least at the top management level in European banks over the past three years and that there has always been a need for a change of strategy at least from the point of view of the owners.

So there was in German banks about in the Commerzbank and Aareal Bank change on the board of directors, also at ABN Amro and ING in Holland, at UBS and Credit Suisse in Switzerland or at Lloyds in Great Britain. If, like PWC, you take the most important European banks and examine succession solutions for the CEOs there over the past three years, you come to the conclusion that they were planned well in advance in only 20 percent of the around 30 cases. “Sudden or forced changes in the chairmanship of the board are a common succession pattern in the European banking landscape,” says Philipp Wackerbeck, Partner at Strategy&, one of the results of the study.

Rarely do women advance

PWC also wanted to find out why 48 percent of the time a new CEO was brought in from outside and 52 percent of the time an internal candidate was appointed to the chair. According to the study, this depends heavily on the business situation of the bank. If the bank’s business figures have improved under the old CEO, there is a good chance that his successor will come from within the company. On the other hand, if business is (unchanged) bad and the strategy of the old CEO hardly works, as was observed at Commerzbank under Martin Zielke between May 2016 and summer 2020, a successor tends to be appointed from outside, in Commerzbank Manfred Knof from the German bank.

Female CEOs are rare in European banks. Only every tenth change in the position of CEO was a woman either retiring or succeeding. For example, Kjerstin Braathen was appointed CEO of the Norwegian bank DNB Bank ASA in September 2019. Francesca McDonagh, on the other hand, was recalled as CEO of Bank of Ireland in August 2022 and Simone Westerfeld as interim CEO of Basler Kantonalbank in September 2019. However, female advancement is in sight in Germany: at the beginning of 2023, Marion Höllinger will take over as CEO of Hypo-Vereinsbank by Michael Diederich, who will become CFO of the football club FC Bayern Munich.

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