ZURICH (Reuters) - Credit Suisse’s (CSGN.S) leadership came under fire on Friday from shareholders disgruntled by a share slide amid a major restructuring of Switzerland’s second-biggest bank.
Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam and Chairman Urs Rohner faced criticism over a 40 percent share price drop since Thiam took charge last July, plans to cut 6,000 jobs and the decision to pay top management bonuses for 2015 despite posting a loss.
Thiam has also faced scrutiny over almost $1 billion in recent write-downs in illiquid trading positions, the scale of which he has said were unknown to himself and other senior bank officials.
“The situation has become extremely serious,” Dominique Biedermann, chairman of shareholder advisory group Ethos, told the group’s annual meeting. “Trust in the current leadership is shattered.”
Nevertheless, more than 80 percent of investors backed all of the pay proposals in binding AGM votes. Rohner was also comfortably re-elected as chairman.
Thiam’s blueprint for Credit Suisse has received a mixed response from the market. After its first full-year loss since 2008 last year, the bank has warned 2016 will likely be another tough year but Thiam said the strategy would eventually bear fruit.
“We are building our platform for the future,” Thiam told shareholders in Zurich at his first annual meeting since joining the bank, addressing them in a mixture of French and German.
“That can seem like a tough task, and one that rarely wins many plaudits in the short term but it is the only path that will lead to success in the long term.”
Thiam wants to pare back Credit Suisse’s investment bank and focus on wealth management. His strategy included a new management structure, raising about 6 billion Swiss francs ($6.2 billion) in fresh capital and a partial initial public offering of its Swiss business.
Rohner said he was convinced the strategic plan, announced in October, had put the bank on the right track but that its implementation would place “considerable demands on all the parties concerned over the next two years”.
Its shares fell 4 percent to 14.59 francs by 1430 GMT (8:30 a.m. EDT) while the Stoxx European bank sector index .SX7P fell 2.7 percent.
“WORST MONTHS EVER”
Major shareholders have backed Thiam’s strategy, but there are concerns that Credit Suisse is looking to expand in Asian wealth management just as Chinese growth is slowing.
Some also fear Thiam’s targets are too optimistic, including one to more than double pre-tax income from Asia Pacific in 2018.
Tough markets prompted Credit Suisse to take an even bigger ax to its investment bank and cut more jobs.
“The first quarter of 2016 has seen a continuation of the negative pressures experienced in the final quarter of 2015,” Thiam said in his speech.
“January and February were simply two of the worst months ever in international markets. As a result, we decided to accelerate our strategy of right-sizing and de-risking our market activities.”
He told the AGM that the recent share slide had been disappointing for him personally.
“I believe that in the longer term,” Thiam said, “there is only one way to improve Credit Suisse’s share price: demonstrating the merits of our strategy and the value of our team through the delivery of strong and consistent results.”
Additional reporting by Oliver Hirt; Editing by Michael Shields and Anna Willard