The bank quickly finds a replacement for the three supervisory board members who have surprisingly left and the two that have already resigned. Among the newcomers are a former bank director, a lawyer, a founder and an insurance manager – still with one obstacle.

The headquarters of Commerzbank in Frankfurt

Dhe Commerzbank discussed four new Supervisory Board members on Maundy Thursday, who will be proposed for election to the Annual General Meeting now planned for May 18. As the FAZ confirmed from the current supervisory board meeting, it concerns the long-time Allianz manager Burkhard Keese, the former bank director Frank Westhoff, the lawyer Daniela Mattheus and the founder Caroline Seifert. However, according to reports, Keese still lacks permission from his British employer, Lloyd’s insurer, where he is CFO. In the evening, Commerzbank confirmed Mattheus, Seifert and Westhoff and left the name of the fourth candidate open, “because he could not yet be named for formal reasons”.

Commerzbank announced on Sunday that Helmut Gottschalk, who headed Volksbank Herrenberg in Baden-Württemberg for 20 years until 2017 and was chairman of the supervisory board of the top cooperative institute DZ Bank for eight years until 2018, will be the new chairman. The five new supervisory board members with Gottschalk replace the supervisory board chairman Hans-Jörg Vetter, who had to resign for health reasons, Andreas Schmitz, who had previously only been appointed by the court and whose candidacy for the supervisory board ultimately failed due to the veto of Jutta Dönges, who was sent to Commerzbank by the federal government as well as Victoria Ossadnik (Eon), Rainer Hillebrand (formerly Otto-Versand) and Tobias Guldimann (formerly Credit Suisse).

While the departures of Vetter and Schmitz have been known for a long time, the FAZ had exclusively reported in advance on Wednesday about the departure of Ossadnik, Hillebrand and Guldimann. The resignation of these additional supervisory board members, which was largely triggered by Schmitz, now gives the new chairman of the supervisory board, Gottschalk, and the major shareholder, the Bund, the opportunity to exchange half of the supervisory boards sent by the shareholders. This is important for Gottschalk because he has no “house power” in Commerzbank; and for the federal government, because Dönges in particular has apparently fallen out hopelessly with part of the supervisory board.

The new ones in profile

With Westhoff, who was DZ Bank’s Chief Risk Officer until 2017, Gottschalk is bringing an experienced credit risk manager to the Supervisory Board, with whom he has already worked in a trusting manner at the top institute of the Volks- und Raiffeisenbanken. Lawyer and fully qualified lawyer Mattheus, who last worked as a partner for the auditing company EY from 2012 to 2019, is a corporate governance expert, especially for financial institutions. And Seifert, as a telecommunications manager and founder, brings digitization expertise to the Commerzbank supervisory board.

Commerzbank, which has been partially nationalized since the winter of 2008/2009, is again in the process of restructuring, after having achieved the highest annual loss in 2020 since the financial crisis eleven years ago. The board of directors around long-time Allianz manager Manfred Knof, who was brought in from Deutsche Bank in January, does not yet seem united, for example, CFO Bettina Orlopp had hoped for the chairmanship of the board herself. After all, on Maundy Thursday, Commerzbank also took a first step towards the goal announced at the end of January of reducing the number of jobs occupied by the end of 2024 from almost 40,000 in the group to 32,000. In Germany, every third job at Commerzbank AG and the former Comdirect will be lost. In doing so, redundancies for operational reasons should be avoided – the only question is how.

First downsizing agreement

Now the management board has agreed with the general works council on a “socially acceptable reduction” of at least 1,700 full-time positions by the end of 2021. To this end, a volunteer program is being set up for employees, the cost of which is estimated at 470 million euros for severance payments and the closure of branches. Commerzbank will charge this amount to its profit in the first quarter of 2021, the bank announced on Maundy Thursday. The bank had estimated the total costs for the restructuring of the group, which will run until 2024, including the closure of foreign locations, at 1.8 billion euros. Of this, around 400 million euros have not yet been booked.