Credit Suisse chiefs face the music at AGM

Credit Suisse chiefs face the music at AGM

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND — Credit Suisse shareholders will get their first chance to voice their frustrations at the beleaguered bank’s takeover by UBS, at its annual general meeting in a Zurich concert venue Tuesday.

Shareholders in Switzerland’s second-biggest bank were given no say in the mega-merger, which was swiftly arranged behind closed doors by the Swiss government, the central bank and the financial regulator on 19 March.

The AGM is being held at the Hallenstadion, Zurich’s biggest indoor arena more used to staging the likes of Queen, ABBA, The Rolling Stones, Adele, Madonna and Ed Sheeran.

More than 2,000 shareholders are expected to attend, way up on the usual turnout of around 1,300, said the Swiss newspaper Blick, which expected them to “give free rein to their frustration”.

It is the first Credit Suisse AGM that shareholders can attend in person since the start of the pandemic — and possibly the last, given the forthcoming merger.

Thanks to a string of scandals, shareholders have seen the value of their investment plunge from 12.78 Swiss francs per share in February 2021 to the 0.76 francs they will receive in the US$3.25-billion buyout by bigger Swiss rival UBS.

The creation of one huge bank has also caused unease across Switzerland, with regular businesses, mortgage-seekers and account holders seeing choice and competition shrink dramatically.

‘Dissatisfaction or anger’

Roger Said, director of the Swiss shareholder organisation Actares, said holding the AGM “may seem a bit absurd” but it remains the right thing to do until the takeover is complete.

The meeting will allow shareholders “to express their dissatisfaction or anger”, he told AFP.

In a press release, Actares said it had been railing for years against Credit Suisse’s risk culture.

“Now that Credit Suisse has definitively lost the confidence of the markets… all that remains is to hope the integration of Credit Suisse into UBS will be done in a responsible manner,” it said.

UBS is facing its own annual general meeting in Basel on Wednesday and the tone of the Credit Suisse AGM could feed into the mood when UBS chiefs face their shareholders, who also had no say in the takeover.

Like UBS, Credit Suisse was one of 30 worldwide Global Systemically Important Banks — deemed of such importance to the international banking system that they are considered too big to fail.

But the markets saw the bank as a weak link in the chain following the collapse of two US banks.

Credit Suisse’s share price plunged by more than 30 per cent on 15 March to a record low of 1.55 Swiss francs.

Despite the central bank, known as the Swiss National Bank (SNB), offering a US$54-billion lifeline, shares closed at 1.86 francs on 17 March.

Fearing a collapse that could have triggered an international banking crisis, the SNB and the government then strongarmed UBS into a deal before the markets reopened on 20 March.

Chairman in the spotlight

In the hours following the takeover announcement, lawyer Perica Grasarevic launched a platform to help small shareholders take legal action. At its peak, the site recorded up to 300 requests per hour, he said on Twitter.

The bank suffered a net loss of US$7.9 billion in 2022 and expects a “substantial” pre-tax loss this year.

Axel Lehmann was brought in as Credit Suisse chairman in January 2022 to try to turn the bank around.

When it comes to the vote on whether he should continue in post, the US shareholder advisory firm Glass Lewis is calling for a vote against him, while Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest investor, has said it will vote against Lehmann’s re-election.

If Credit Suisse shareholders end up tearing up their agendas, the Hallenstadion has a few days to clear up before normal service resumes.

Visitors later this month include British comedian Ricky Gervais, Italian rockers Maneskin and former US president Barack Obama.

— AFP

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