Deutsche task to test Cryan's strategic credentials

4 min read
Saeed Azhar,

(Reuters) - John Cryan has spent years of his life advising banks on strategy. Now as the new CEO of Germany’s Deutsche Bank he’ll have just days to put his ideas into practice.

Cryan, a 54-year-old Briton, was head of the global financial institutions advisory group at UBS before he was elevated to the role of chief financial officer of the Swiss bank in September 2008, at the height of the financial crisis.

The Cambridge-educated banker first trained as an accountant at Arthur Andersen before embarking on a career in the City of London where he joined S.G. Warburg in 1987. The traditional merchant bank was taken over by SBC before becoming part of UBS and its legacy has lived on in the capital’s financial district, with many of former “Warburgers” still in high-level roles.

Cryan’s experience as an adviser to large financial groups, which he began five years after joining Warburg, came to the fore as CFO at UBS where he was seen as a central figure in engineering the government rescue of the Swiss bank.

Before the UBS rescue, where he helped lead the team preparing a massive rights issue and worked on the bank’s new strategy, Cryan was well known in financial circles for advising Dutch bank ABN AMRO when it was taken over by Royal Bank of Scotland, a deal that ended in disaster for both banks.

After leaving UBS in 2011, Cryan turned from an adviser on the “sell-side” to an investment banking client on the “buy-side” as President for Europe at Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek, a position he held from 2012 until 2014.

Cryan, a City grandee who keeps a low-profile but is known for his sense of humour and polite manner by those who have met him, gained a strong reputation in Swiss financial circles while at UBS and is involved in charity through the Lord Mayor’s Appeal Charity in London of which he is a board member.

Earlier this year he was hired as a non-executive director of the world’s largest listed hedge fund, Man Group. Man Chairman Jon Aisbitt described Cryan as “a leader in the sector, having worked at the top of the financial services industry through one of the most challenging periods in recent history.”

He has also clearly impressed Deutsche Bank Chairman Paul Achleitner and others since becoming a member of the Supervisory Board of Germany’s largest bank in 2013, and has now been handed the challenge of refining and implementing a strategy which his predecessor Anshu Jain and co-CEO Juergen Fitschen have struggled to pin down.

However, the task now facing him at Deutsche Bank and in the new world of banking following the financial crisis, will be a major test for Cryan, say people who know him.

“I do not believe that any individual can turn Deutsche around like this,” said Michael Dee, a former Morgan Stanley investment banker and ex-senior managing director at Temasek.

“John’s gift is a superior analytical mind, however the problems endemic in the system are well beyond those of pure analysis and extend to the self perception and self analysis of the individuals in the middle of the organisation,” Dee added.

And an industry lobbyist who knows Cryan well, and who noted that unlike Jain, Cryan speaks fluent German, said that as a “classical corporate finance man” he expected the new CEO to “close entire divisions” and to act in a similar way to former Bundesbank chief Axel Weber when he became chairman of UBS.

Cryan, who was not available for comment following his promotion to the co-CEO role, summed up the journey ahead in a brief statement on Sunday:

“Our future will be defined by how well we deliver on strategy, impress clients and reduce complexity.”

Cryan’s work begins on July 1, when he formally takes over from Jain, but shareholders will be looking for answers quickly as the bank has promised to flesh out its “Strategy 2020” by the end of the month.

(Additional reporting by Gernot Heller and Alexander Smith)

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