Frankfurt After graduating from high school, Michael Kotzbauer’s parents recommended that he do an apprenticeship. “So that you have something clever!” Kotzbauer then applied to several financial institutions and finally decided on Commerzbank because he found the interview there the most likeable.
33 years later, Kotzbauer is still with Commerzbank. He has been responsible for corporate customer business on the Management Board since the beginning of 2021 and has been so successful that the Supervisory Board extended his contract until 2028 on Wednesday.
CEO Manfred Knof praised Kotzbauer in the highest tones. “He and his team have expanded the bank’s strong position in German medium-sized companies and thus made an important contribution to the turnaround of the entire bank.”
The corporate customer division, which was still considered a problem three years ago, achieved its best result in seven years in 2022. The institute will present the figures for the entire bank this Thursday.
However, Germany’s second-largest private bank announced in advance that it intends to distribute part of its profits to its owners for the first time since 2018. In addition to a dividend of 20 cents per share, the institute wants to buy back its own paper. However, the European Central Bank and the Federal Finance Agency still have to approve the share buyback program.
In the corporate customer business, there is a risk of more headwind in 2023
Kotzbauer plays a key role in the restructuring of Commerzbank, in which a total of 10,000 jobs will be cut. He has scaled back activities abroad and placed the focus of the corporate customer division more on German corporations and medium-sized companies.
Kotzbauer is a man of conviction: “I stand for medium-sized companies,” he said shortly after taking office in an interview with the Handelsblatt. Visits to corporate customers are still the part of his job that he enjoys the most.
Many on the Commerzbank Supervisory Board appreciate that the 54-year-old is very knowledgeable about his department and can explain his decisions well, even in the event of critical queries. This has not always been the case with other board members in the past.
After the conversion work of the past few years, Kotzbauer himself wants to focus more on the expansion of the business in the future. “After returning to the profit zone, we are now fully focused on profitable growth,” he announced.
It won’t be easy, after all, numerous domestic and foreign financial institutions in Germany are vying for corporate customers. In addition, experts expect that the demand for credit from companies will decrease due to the economic slowdown. At the same time, the number of loan defaults is likely to increase.
Decoupling from China? “This is total nonsense!”
There are also challenges within Commerzbank: The IT, on which the corporate customer business also depends, is being rebuilt and does not always work as desired. In addition, Kotzbauer will have to replace many experienced corporate customer advisors who are retiring in the coming years.
Kotzbauer is known for speaking plainly when there are problems. “There’s no point in beating around things,” he said himself. “If we don’t openly address shortcomings, we can’t fix them and get better.”
When Kotzbauer speaks, a light Franconian dialect can sometimes be heard. His family comes from Franconian Switzerland – and he spent a lot of time there as a child. However, Kotzbauer was born in May 1968 in New York, where his father was working at the time.
But the family moved back to Germany when he was still a child. Kotzbauer graduated from high school in Aschaffenburg and still lives nearby to this day.
However, the young man did not stop at the bank clerk training recommended by his parents. He studied business administration in Frankfurt. And in the corporate customer division of Commerzbank, his career took its course – in Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin and Shanghai.
Kotzbauer follows the discussions about dealing with China closely. He doesn’t believe in calls for the German economy to be decoupled from the People’s Republic. “This is total nonsense,” he said recently. “China is an important market and will remain an important market. But you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
In addition to China, there are other exciting markets in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, said Kotzbauer.
He said that to companies during his time in China from 2010 to 2013. “But nobody wanted to listen back then.”
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