John Cryan

The Scarlet Banker

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Deutsche Bank is moving ahead faster than some expected under the relentless scrutiny of its new CEO, John Cryan.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Deutsche Bank has forfeited billions in recent years as a result of legal infractions. Fixing the corporate culture is among the challenges facing John Cryan as he attempts an overhaul to improve the bank’s bottom line.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Cryan recently ordered 14,000 job cuts worldwide.
    • In mid-October, he reorganized the management board.
    • Mr. Cryan considers some salaries at the bank to be too high.
  • Audio

    Audio

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In only his second public appearance since becoming Deutsche Bank’s co-chief executive in July, John Cryan said banks don’t have the issue of greed under control yet – even seven years after the global financial crisis.

“I believe that people in the banking sector earn too much money,” Mr. Cryan said at Goethe University in Frankfurt on Monday. “One problem in the crisis was that management set itself the goal of earning as much money as possible, and payments reflected that.”

His remarks were restrained, but his comments have explosive relevance for thousands of his own employees, many of whose jobs are on the line in the underperforming institution.

“Our salaries in the back office are too high. At banks, an information specialist or an accountant earns more than in any other industry. With our front-office employees, a premium may be justified. But the rest of the company must be paid more in harmony with the rest of the economy,” he said.

“I don't like the word ‘culture.’”

John Cryan, co-chief of Deutsche Bank

Mr. Cryan has already announced his plan to reduce employee bonuses, in part to help Germany’s largest bank cut costs, but also for ethical reasons. The British banker explained why, in contrast to his predecessor at Deutsche Bank, he loathes the phrase “change of culture.”

“I don’t like the word ‘culture,’ ” he said. He said “culture” is a positive word, but with regard to the banking scandal, the discussion is often used to invoke preserving, not changing, damaging habits. Whatever words are used “must be filled with meaning,” he said.

For many long-suffering employees at Deutsche Bank, the cultural transition is about to take on new, painful significance. For years, workers complained that bank managers could not credibly initiate such change because those in charge were its biggest obstacles, often responsible for many of its greatest excesses.

Some were even promoted – above all the former investment banker Anshu Jain, who became co-chief executive in 2012 but was later ousted in favor of Mr. Cryan.

But this criticism has fallen silent in recent months – and the reason is Mr. Cryan. “He’s the first to be really getting the cultural change going,” said one longtime bank employee.

Mr. Cryan initiated a major shakeup of Deutsche Bank’s management board in October. “New, uncompromised persons at the top are the right start,” said a member of the workers council. “But it is still too early to evaluate the effect.”

The restructuring will affect the entire bank. Mr. Cryan wants clear lines of responsibility and accountability. The countless committees that made decisions before but carried no responsibility are being ditched.

 

CryanNew-Reuters
John Cryan, the new co-CEO of Deutsche Bank, is taking a tough line on employee compensation in Germany’s largest bank. Source: Reuters

 

Among these is the group executive committee directly beneath the management board.

Mr. Cryan is however continuing the training seminars that Mr. Jain initiated.

Last year, 6,500 investment bankers throughout the world participated in “internal values” seminars. In Germany, 600 managers have attended programs at the Institute of the German Economy in Cologne. The bank has booked further sessions for next year.

But what is creating a far deeper impression than the seminars is the “R-word”: Russia. Hardly any other buzzword makes it clear what Mr. Cryan has changed. Russia is the home of the bank’s most recent scandal involving alleged money-laundering.

The bank is now the subject of an international investigation that could cost it millions, if not billions. Before, Deutsche Bank took the risk of doing business in Russia.

“During Mr. Jain’s era, we tended to pronounce that word with resigned humor, inasmuch as Russia stood for a business area that had not yet been penetrated by cultural change,” said a manager from Deutsche Bank in London. “In the meantime, it has come to be a feared word, because it makes clear: Mr. Cryan doesn’t have much patience but makes short shrift of things when affairs don’t proceed as he would like.”

But Mr. Cryan put an end to the bank’s investment banking operations in Russia.

“To some extent, the R-word has meanwhile replaced the C-word that has come to be laughed at,” said the manager, referring to cultural change.

In contrast to the phrase “change of culture,” Mr. Cryan has very often used the term “cost reductions” – and recently ordered the elimination of 14,000 jobs worldwide.

Bank sources say Mr. Cryan’s resolute, thorough clean-up of many top executive suites has played well with the bank’s rank and file. “The Federal Financial Supervision Authority (BaFin) acknowledges that Deutsche Bank has made significant progress under Mr. Cryan,” one insider said. “This relaxed things considerably.”

For many employees these days, the cultural change has been put on a back burner, because the fear of losing jobs is the paramount focus.

“There will be great restlessness here in the department as long as it hasn’t been decided who of us will be fired as a consequence of the already-announced reductions,” said a Deutsche Bank investment banker. Because in contrast to the phrase “change of culture,” Mr. Cryan has very often used the term “cost reductions” – and recently ordered the elimination of 14,000 jobs worldwide.

Deutsche Bank first proclaimed a cultural transformation three years ago. Hohenheim University banking professor Hans-Peter Burghof believes Mr. Cryan could actually change Deutsche Bank’s culture.

“Before, there was a conflict between investment bankers and people handling commercial clients at Deutsche Bank. Mr. Cryan is disrupting these insider relationships and can thereby introduce changes,” Mr. Burghof said.

The bank has changed since Mr. Cryan took up his position, he added.

 

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“The power center beneath the management board, the group executive committee, was broken up. There are now clear lines of responsibility. The bank now has a much stronger patriarchal character,” Mr. Burghof said. “Everything is directed toward Mr. Cryan. This strict orientation toward a single person is, of course, relatively risky. But perhaps that cannot be avoided if the wish is to make rapid progress.”

He said Mr. Cryan might be in a better position than his predecessor to make cultural change a success.

“In any case, he is in a more favorable starting position. He comes from outside, is not bound by insider relationships and networks,” he said.

But that could also mean Mr. Cryan lacks a power base.

“In the end, Mr. Jain didn’t have much support either, not even from the investment bankers. They were only loyal as long as they could hope for high bonuses,” Mr. Burghof said. “Mr. Cryan can enter into new alliances where they are useful for affecting the cultural change. For that reason, I see genuine opportunities for a change.”

 

Laura de la Motte, Daniel Schäfer, Katharina Slodczyk and Yasmin Osman all contributed to this article. To contact them: delamotte@handelsblatt.com, d.schaefer@handelsblatt.com, slodczyk@handelsblatt.com and osman@handelsblatt.com.

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