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Credit Suisse chairman says bonus concession not ‘weakness’

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-04-2017 Jan-Henrik Förster

Zurich: Credit Suisse Group AG’s proposed bonuses for top executives may initially have been “insufficiently sensitive,” chairman Urs Rohner said in prepared remarks to shareholders as they gathered for a binding vote on the pay packages.

The board’s subsequent decision to reduce the bonuses should be seen as a commitment to delivering on the bank’s strategy, not as a “sign of weakness,” he said in a draft speech posted on the bank’s website Friday.

Chief executive officer Tidjane Thiam and 12 other management board members offered earlier this month to give up 40% of their bonuses to quell criticism. While that satisfied some investors, including Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, others say the payouts are still too generous for a bank that has posted two straight annual losses.

“We hope that this decision on compensation will alleviate some of the concerns that have been expressed and will allow us to continue to focus our full attention on the task at hand,” Thiam said in separate remarks, adding that he expects 2017 to be a positive year for Switzerland’s second-largest bank.

Bonus showdown

Swiss laws introduced in 2015 require companies listed in the country to give shareholders a binding vote on board and executive pay. While successful revolts are rare for leading companies, shareholders in Swiss asset manager GAM Holding AG on Thursday rejected bonuses for its executive board.

The mood among shareholders may have improved after the bank posted its best quarter Wednesday since it embarked on a costly overhaul in October 2015. Credit Suisse also bowed to pressure from investors to raise capital through a share sale instead of an initial public offering of part of its Swiss business, its most profitable unit.

The company is asking shareholders to approve 48 million francs ($49 million) in bonuses for top executives. Even with the cut, Thiam would still be the second best-paid CEO among European peers with a total compensation of 10.24 million francs. Switzerland’s other big bank, UBS Group AG, is proposing to pay CEO Sergio Ermotti 13.7 million francs.

Credit Suisse is reshaping its business model to expand in wealth management and emerging markets like China. Thiam, a former insurance executive, has downsized the investment bank, the business that made Credit Suisse one of the biggest names on Wall Street but that has become more expensive since the 2008 financial crisis due to tougher capital requirements.

Major investors including Harris Associates have said they support Credit Suisse’s compensation plan. Norway’s wealth fund said the bonus cuts demonstrated that directors listened to shareholder concerns.

If shareholders reject the bonuses—17 million francs split between cash and shares for achieving short-term targets and 31 million francs in shares for performances tied to long-term goals—the board can revisit the matter at a special meeting.

Credit Suisse’s stock fell 33% last year, with tough markets, surprise trading losses and legal cases sapping confidence in its strategy. Charges tied to a settlement over its crisis-era mortgage securities business pushed the bank into a 2.7 billion-franc loss. Bloomberg

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