Tidjane Thiam: On His Way to Canossa?

The absence of the chief financial officer of Credit Suisse (CS) at last week's investor conference of J.P. Morgen in London prompted some raised eyebrows and sent the rumor mill spinning.

The usually punctual and reliable David Mathers wasn't the only absentee though: no representative of CS was at the conference, unlike the who's who of international banking. Asked for a comment by «AWP» news agency, the bank confirmed its absence without giving a reason.

The bank's share tanked as investors were left pondering what the bank had to hide. Of course, in the current climate and following the whopping loss in 2015, it is reasonable to ask what will happen with the new strategy presented by Tidjane Thiam in October.

Early Revision of Strategy?

Some observers are putting their bets on an early tweaking of the strategy. Dominic Elliot, a columnist at «Reuters» put forward his views in the «New York Times»: he's convinced that Thiam needs to reconsider the changes following a drop of 40 percent of its share price. The goals set for the units were far removed from reality, too far to retain them, Elliot says.

Thiam's ambitions are sky-high: the bank in Asia has to boost pretax profit to 2.1 billion francs by 2018 from 0.9 billion in 2014. The wealth management business has been told to double the profit to 2.1 billion in the same period of time, while the new Swiss unit needs to increase its pretax to 2.3 billion francs.

With the massive loss accumulated in 2015, CS moved a further 2.95 billion francs away from reaching the targets of 2018, making Thiam's wishes appear even more ambitious.

Hidden Profit Warnings

The past days have made apparent that what bankers believed in February has been rendered obsolete just a month later. UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti, the boss of a bank reinvigorated in recent years, painted a bleak picture of the first quarter, giving an outlook that amounted to a not-so-hidden profit warning. And ironically, he did so at the event where CS CFO Mathers was due to hold a speech.

Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan was similarly pessimistic at the conference, suggesting that his institution might as well post a deficit this year. CS, which like Deutsche is undergoing a substantial remake, kept mum.

Ambitious Targets

Iqbal Khan, CEO of CS' International Wealth Management division, in an interview with finews.ch indicated that the turbulent times on the financial markets had not been taken into account when the new targets were set, which can be read as an indication that the targets may not be reached in time.

The guarded hints of Khan and the circumstantial evidence gathered from what other banks are saying doesn't prove anything. But if Thiam has to change the strategy so soon after the grand presentation of October, it would be equal to walking to Canossa.

The targets set last year were intrinsically linked with the capital increase. The deal was clear: investors inject a further 6 billion francs and Thiam's crew generates sustainable growth in return. But what happens if he fails to deliver?

The financial markets are awaiting Thiam's next comments with much anticipation. An opportunity would be on Thursday, March 24, at the publication of the annual report.

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