Antonio Horta-Osorio. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Antonio Horta-Osorio. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Credit Suisse picked Antonio Horta-Osorio as its next chair, tapping the first non-Swiss person for the role as it seeks to move past one of the most turbulent years in its history.

The Lloyds’s departing CEO is set to succeed Urs Rohner, who will be stepping down after reaching his term limit of 12 years, and whose final year was marred by controversy. Shareholders will vote on the nomination at the bank’s AGM on April 30, Credit Suisse said in a statement on Tuesday.

Horta-Osorio’s appointment would mark the end of an era at Credit Suisse, bringing sweeping changes at the top of Switzerland’s second-largest lender after Thomas Gottstein replaced Tidjane Thiam as CEO in February after a damaging spying scandal.

The new chair will face challenges including slow growth in private banking and an asset management arm struggling with hedge fund losses. Alongside the nomination, Credit Suisse said that it may have to increase provisions by hundreds of millions of dollars for a residential mortgage-backed securities dispute dating back to 2009.

With Horta-Osorio, Credit Suisse is tapping a polyglot retail banking veteran who brings an outside perspective and international experience to work alongside Gottstein, a Swiss national. A native of Portugal, Horta-Osorio is the longest-serving boss of a major bank in Britain, whose own tenure at Lloyds was often rocky.

“Antonio Horta-Osorio will make a major contribution to the future success of our bank as a leading wealth manager with strong global investment banking capabilities,” Rohner said in Tuesday’s statement.

Horta-Osorio joins the bank after a tough final year for Rohner in which his handling of the spying scandal — when the bank blamed surveillance of former executives on its former COO — prompted some shareholders to call for his immediate departure.

Even as the scandal receded, Credit Suisse has had to contend with losses on loans to rich clients, reports on questionable deals the bank arranged for others, and a lacklustre trading performance.

Asset management

The asset management unit in particular has been hit hard recently, with Credit Suisse closing down funds and laying off employees at its alternatives business, and overhauling investment guidelines for others. The bank is planning a strategic review of asset management over the next 12 months, though for now, it has ruled out a sale or merger.

Credit Suisse is now turning to an international banker who has been in executive positions since his late 20s to work with Gottstein, who has risen up the ranks of the bank and previously led its Swiss domestic business.

Horta-Osorio’s own record hasn’t been controversy-free. His pay package often stoked debate even as he steered Lloyds to profitability and full private ownership after a bailout during the financial crisis.

Soon after starting his turnaround of Lloyds in 2011, Horta-Osorio took a nine week medical leave after suffering from overwork and sleep deprivation. During his tenure, the banker cut thousands of jobs and managed a long-running and costly response to a scandal where British banks mis-sold insurance to consumers. He also pushed into wealth management and insurance as a way to diversify a revenue stream heavily dependent on the British economy and mortgage borrowers.

The lender cut his pay by 28% to £4.73m for 2019, after he was previously one of the most highly paid bank chiefs in London. Horta-Osorio’s handling of a whistle-blower’s report also came under scrutiny in the wake of a fraud case that dates back more than a decade.

Scandal

At Credit Suisse, Rohner will leave the board after more than a decade at the helm, during which he replaced two CEOs, tilted the bank’s focus from trading to wealth management and saw the spying episode develop into an international scandal.

The Swiss national, a former general counsel at Credit Suisse, is best known for his ousting of CEO Thiam after a boardroom battle, a move that the he called an attempt to fix Credit Suisse’s reputation after a damaging spying scandal.

Thiam’s exit marked the culmination of a conflict with Rohner that escalated over the CEO’s dispute with former international wealth management head Iqbal Khan. After Khan said he was quitting to join crosstown rival UBS, one of the Thiam’s top deputies hired detectives to follow him — a tactic that caused an uproar when it became public.

Rohner turned to Gottstein, a two-decade Credit Suisse veteran, to restore investor confidence. Gottstein pledged to reach out to shareholders and regulators to mend relations, and sought to build bridges with employees. He’s also restructuring the bank and began a savings program to counter the affect of the pandemic.

Lloyds poached HSBC’s Charlie Nunn as Horta-Osorio’s successor, a choice that puts a wealth veteran at the helm of the British bank.

Bloomberg

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