Frankfurt The most exciting personnel question in the German banking scene has been answered: The Commerzbank has found a new CEO after months of leadership chaos. His name is Manfred Knof and he comes from German bank. So far he has headed the German private customer business there, one level below the board of directors.
Commerzbank slipped into a deep personnel crisis in the summer after a shareholder revolt by US financial investor Cerberus. The institute’s second-largest shareholder had accused the management of having “blatantly failed over the years”. Both chairman of the supervisory board Stefan Schmittmann and chairman of the board Martin Zielke then submitted their resignation.
Schmittmann’s successor was the former head of the Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, Hans-Jörg Vetter. His most pressing task was to find a new CEO. This search has now come to an end with the appointment of Knof. The 55-year-old had only switched to Deutsche Bank last year. Before that, he was the insurer’s German business Allianz directed. Knof will take up his new post at the beginning of next year.
It was very important to Vetter to find a top manager from outside, because Commerzbank needs new impulses, it is said in financial circles. Corporate client boss Roland Boekhout and CFO Bettina Orlopp were considered internal favorites for the chief position. Boukehout was only released from the Dutch in early 2020 Major bank ING moved to Frankfurt and, according to insiders, could have brought a new perspective to Commezrbank.
Knof is “an experienced top manager who is strong in implementation and has proven himself in a wide variety of tasks in the financial services industry,” says Supervisory Board Chairman Hans-Jörg Vetter. In an in-house interview he recently announced what he expects from the new CEO: “It’s about increasing earnings, reducing costs and questioning the status quo”. There are still many traditional structures that are no longer appropriate to today’s requirements and the size of the bank. Knof emphasized: “I have great respect for this new task. With its Mittelstandsbank, Commerzbank is highly relevant for the German economy.
Knof at Deutsche Bank
Knof had joined Deutsche Bank last July and was given the task of restructuring the German private customer business by CEO Christian Sewing. The largest domestic financial institution wants to save one billion euros in this area. Knof is seen as a direct but strong implementation manager with a lot of conversion experience. In his 21 years at Allianz, he managed the restructuring of several foreign subsidiaries.
In his role as head of the insurer’s powerful Germany subsidiary, he threw in the towel in 2017 after only two and a half years – he had fallen out with CEO Oliver Bäte. Knof gave health reasons for leaving Allianz and wanted to take a break. Almost two years later, he suddenly reappeared at Deutsche Bank.
But soon after he moved to the largest domestic money house, rumors had surfaced that he was dissatisfied with his new position. When asked about his loyalty to his employer, the lawyer replied in an interview with Handelsblatt in April: “I have a very exciting job here. And right now I am happy to be here on board. Because it is impressive how professionally our bank is managing the corona pandemic. “
At Deutsche Bank, the deputy chairman of the board, Karl von Rohr, who is responsible for private customer business on the board, will take over Knof’s tasks, according to financial circles. It is not yet clear whether this is a final solution, but they are not looking for an external successor.
At Commerzbank, the new CEO has to start with the restructuring of the bank requested by Cerberus and other investors as soon as possible. Investors are bitterly stuck in the middle of the corona crisis. Zielke had admitted that the strategy adopted in autumn 2019 was insufficient to make the institute more profitable amid the ongoing low interest rates.
The incumbent executive team therefore presented a radical restructuring plan in July, which includes cutting 10,000 jobs and closing hundreds of branches. But until a new boss is on board, the institute cannot start implementing it.
For this year the analysts expect the Commerzbank an average net loss of 140 million euros. Since the outbreak of the corona crisis in Europe at the end of February, the institute’s share price has plummeted by around 35 percent, on Friday it fell again by 1.1 percent after the Moody’s rating agency lowered the outlook for Commerzbank’s credit rating.
More: Worse prospects for Commerzbank