Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam quits after spying scandal

Thiam repeated that he had no knowledge of covert surveillance of his former colleagues.

Tidjane Thiam, former Credit Suisse CEO
Tidjane Thiam, chief executive officer of Credit Suisse Group AG, will step down officially on February 14 after the presentation of fourth-quarter and full-year 2019 results [File: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg]

Credit Suisse said on Friday it had accepted Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam’s resignation following a spying scandal. The Zurich-based bank said he would be replaced by Thomas Gottstein, the head of the bank’s Swiss business.

Credit Suisse’s board also said Chairman Urs Rohner had the backing to complete his term which runs until April 2021.

Switzerland‘s second-biggest bank has been embroiled in a widening crisis since September when its former star wealth manager, Iqbal Khan, after switching to rival UBS, confronted a private detective following him and his wife through downtown Zurich.

What the bank initially said was a rogue spying case run by then-Chief Operating Officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee widened as details emerged of additional instances of surveillance.

Swiss financial supervisor FINMA is conducting its own investigation after the bank subsequently acknowledged it had tailed former human resources head Peter Goerke.

In exiting, Thiam again said he knew nothing about the surveillance of Khan or Goerke.

“I had no knowledge of the observation of two former colleagues,” Thiam said in the Credit Suisse statement. “It undoubtedly disturbed Credit Suisse and caused anxiety and hurt. I regret that this happened and it should never have taken place.”

The spying scandal had exacerbated tensions between Thiam and chairman Rohner, according to people close to the bank. This week several significant Credit Suisse shareholders pledged their support for Thiam, but he struggled to win the backing of the wider board.

Gottstein, a prominent investment banker and wealth manager before taking over Credit Suisse’s domestic operation, had been mooted by analysts as a potential successor to Thiam.

Swiss citizen Gottstein has been at the bank since 1999, joining from UBS. He has spent most of his career working in equity capital markets before taking over as chief of Credit Suisse’s Swiss bank in 2015.

“Based on his deep and comprehensive experience in our business and in view of his impressive performance as head of our Swiss bank and his respect amongst our clients and employees, Thomas Gottstein is excellently positioned to lead Credit Suisse into the future,” Rohner said in a statement.

Thiam’s resignation, effective from February 14 after the presentation of fourth-quarter and full-year 2019 results, came at a board meeting on Thursday.

During the meeting in Zurich, directors backed Rohner despite calls from Swiss investment adviser Ethos Foundation for him to quit.

“Urs Rohner has led the board of directors commendably during this turbulent time,” said board member Severin Schwan in the bank’s statement.

“After careful deliberations, the board has been unanimous in its actions, as well as in reaffirming its full support for the chairman to complete his term until April 2021.”

Andre Helfenstein, now responsible for Credit Suisse’s institutional clients in Switzerland, will succeed Gottstein as CEO of the Swiss business and will become a member of the executive board.

Source: Reuters