Jens Weidmann is to become the new head of the supervisory board

Frankfurt Surprising change at Commerzbank: The former Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann is to become the new chairman of the supervisory board of Germany’s second largest private bank. The 54-year-old is to succeed Helmut Gottschalk after the next general meeting in May 2023.

Commerzbank announced that the 71-year-old Gottschalk had decided due to his age not to be available for a new term as a member of the supervisory board and chief controller after the next general meeting. He informed the shareholder representatives in the Presidential and Nomination Committee of this decision on Saturday.

Gottschalk initiated a succession process at an early stage and, in consultation with the Federal Ministry of Finance, proposed Weidmann as the new supervisory board. Gottschalk explained that he was pleased to have won Weidmann, “a highly respected personality in the financial sector, to stand for election to the Supervisory Board”. In the event of an election, Weidmann is “also available to chair the Supervisory Board”. The shareholder representatives on the Presidial and Nomination Committee responded positively to the proposal.

Since the state bailout during the financial crisis in 2008, the largest shareholder in Commerzbank has been the federal government, which currently holds a good 15 percent. “The federal government fully supports Mr. Gottschalk’s proposal to elect Jens Weidmann to the supervisory board in his place,” said Finance State Secretary Florian Toncar to the Handelsblatt.

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Weidmann’s signing is a coup for Commerzbank. In the past, the institute had repeatedly received rejections from high-ranking financial managers when looking for new supervisory board bosses.

Weidmann is “an excellent choice,” said Roy Adams. He is a co-founder of the US investor Metronuclear, which claims to hold 380,000 Commerzbank shares. Volker Brühl, Managing Director of the Center for Financial Studies at Frankfurt’s Goethe University, was more skeptical. “A former central banker does not necessarily have the profile of a chairman of a major bank,” Brühl wrote on Twitter.

Weidmann sees potential for two strong private banks

Weidmann was President of the Deutsche Bundesbank from 2011 to 2021 and in this capacity was also a member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB). Previously, he was head of the economic and financial policy department in the Federal Chancellery.

At the end of 2021, Weidmann surprisingly resigned as head of the Bundesbank because he no longer wanted to support the ECB’s monetary policy, which he considered too lax. Weidmann always insisted on a clean separation of monetary and financial policy – and felt that he was in a structural minority on the Governing Council.

After the end of his one-year cooling-off phase, Weidmann can take on new tasks again in 2023. According to financial circles, when he was offered the position on the supervisory board of Commerzbank, he agreed because he saw the potential for two strong private banks in Germany.

At the Bundesbank, Weidmann appeared primarily as a monetary politician and thus differed significantly from his predecessor, who worked as a banker his entire life. Helmut Gottschalk was once the head of the Volksbank Herrenberg-Nagold-Rottenburg and later also the chief controller of the DZ Bank.

In April 2021, after retirement, Gottschalk took over as chairman of the Commerzbank Supervisory Board, which was in a state of emergency at the time. His predecessor, the long-standing LBBW boss Hans-Jörg Vetter, had resigned a month and a half earlier for health reasons.
A little later, four other representatives of the capital side, Andreas Schmitz, Victoria Ossadnik, Rainer Hillebrand and Tobias Guldimann, gave up – and justified this, among other things, with the dominant role of the major shareholder, the federal government.

The relationship between Knof and Gottschalk is considered tense

Gottschalk then reorganized the supervisory board and subsequently reorganized the board of directors. IT board member Jörg Hessenmüller had to leave in autumn 2021, HR manager Sabine Schmittroth is leaving the bank at the end of this year.

Gottschalk signed three new board members with Thomas Schaufler, Jörg Oliveri del Castillo-Schulz and Sabine Mlnarsky. He also adjusted the remuneration system, which he felt was not performance-oriented enough beforehand.

Gottschalk controls the Commerzbank board more intensively and critically than many of his predecessors. He also calls for more down-to-earthness and questions privileges. “We can no longer afford many things that the bank has done in the past,” he said in the summer.

With his approach, Gottschalk made few friends in management. His relationship with CEO Manfred Knof is also considered tense, although both publicly claim the opposite.

Gottschalk has the feeling that the long-standing insurance manager Knof sometimes lacks experience in the banking business and that he therefore has to take corrective action, reports people who experience both regularly. Knof, on the other hand, believes that Gottschalk is too involved in the operational business.

Gottschalk sees “the future as an independent force” for Commerzbank

The financial regulator and the federal government think it’s good that Gottschalk is keeping a close eye on the Commerzbank management. “We are extremely grateful to him for the work he has done, which has made a significant contribution to Commerzbank’s recent positive development,” said Finance Secretary Toncar. “Mr. Gottschalk has always enjoyed and continues to enjoy our great esteem.”

Commerzbank is undergoing a major transformation that will eliminate 10,000 full-time jobs. After losing billions in 2020, the institute is now back in the black. In the current year, the institute is aiming for a profit of more than one billion euros and wants to pay out a dividend for the first time since 2018.

“Commerzbank has made great progress over the past year and a half with the realignment of the management team and the restoration of the profitability of the core business and is now in robust shape again,” said Gottschalk on Saturday. “It therefore has good opportunities to shape a sustainably successful future as an independent force in the German banking market.”

Assistance: Frank Wiebe

More: The uncomfortable Mr. Gottschalk: the head of the supervisory board confronts Commerzbank with a new world.

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