Investigations surrounding Deutsche Bank’s more than decade-long relationship with President Trump and his business have created a crisis for the German financial giant.
It’s caught in a legal tug of war between Trump and House Democrats for the president’s financial records and calls for broad investigations of its anti-money-laundering practices.
But for the 150-year-old bank, Trump is just the beginning of its problems.
Once a global powerhouse, catering to the U.S. elite from a tower on Wall Street, Deutsche Bank’s fortunes have waned. Sunday, it announced a sweeping restructuring, including gutting its stock and bond trading business and reducing other investment bank operations.
The overhaul will mean as many as 18,000 job cuts by 2022 out of its 90,000 workers. The news followed an announcement Friday that Deutsche Bank’s investment banking chief, Garth Ritchie, was stepping down by mutual agreement.
The restructuring is “the most fundamental transformation of Deutsche Bank in decades,” Christian Sewing, the bank’s chief executive, said in a statement. “This is a restart for Deutsche Bank — for the long-term benefit of our clients, employees, investors and society.”
Shareholders are growing increasingly frustrated by the bank’s lackluster profits and growing legal bills. The bank’s stock dipped to record lows in recent months, though it has rebounded some recently.
At its annual meeting in Frankfurt, shareholders quizzed company executives for more than nine hours over missteps that have kept the bank under pressure.
“I’m leading a bank that is undoubtedly going through a challenging period,” said Sewing, who has been at the bank for more than 20 years and became chief executive in 2018. “I want to bring back the pride people feel in working for Deutsche Bank. This is crucial for motivation.” Deutsche was prepared to make “tough cutbacks,” he told shareholders.
The bank reported a profit for the first time since 2014 last year, but shareholders are still not satisfied.
“We don’t envy CEO Sewing, who has inherited the toughest job in European Banking,” Kian Abouhossein, a JPMorgan Chase analyst, said in a research note last month.
Deutsche “used to be the biggest lender in Germany,” said Firdaus Ibrahim, a CFRA equity analyst. Its “relevance has been declining over the years.”
The various investigations into Deutsche and its relationship with Trump have made the bank’s efforts to bounce back more complex, analysts say.
It is caught in a legal battle over a subpoena from House Democrats for years of the president’s financial records. A Manhattan federal judge has rejected a request by Trump and his family to block Deutsche and Capital One from complying with the congressional subpoenas. The case is on hold while Trump appeals the decision, and the banks have agreed not to turn over any information until the case is resolved.
Seven Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee have also asked the Federal Reserve to probe whistleblower allegations, first reported by the New York Times last month, that Deutsche Bank buried suspicious activity from accounts associated with Trump and his son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has also subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank related to three large loans the bank extended to Trump’s company in recent years.
The “Democrats’ maneuvers will be a cloud over Deutsche for the foreseeable future,” said Ian Katz, a policy analyst at Capital Alpha Partners.
The bank has said it will cooperate with all of the investigations and has begun discussing the best way to turn over the documents covered by the subpoena with members of the House committee staff, according to a person familiar with the discussions. Bank executives have indicated they are wary of appearing to resist any of the U.S. investigations, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
All of the investigations are a “negative,” said Ibrahim of CFRA, adding that it reaffirms why “the market has been concerned about the bank’s legal risk.”
It comes at a time when Deutsche is also struggling to put years of legal troubles behind it. In 2016, it agreed to a $7.2 billion settlement for a mortgage-abuse case with the U.S. Justice Department and in 2018 agreed to pay $240 million to settle accusations it conspired with other banks to manipulate a key interest rate.
But the pressure has intensified. Recently the bank acknowledged that it used faulty software to detect suspicious customer transactions and in November, more than 100 German officers raided its Frankfurt headquarters as part of a money-laundering investigation. The search “hit TV screens across the world and … severely damaged us,” Sewing said.
The bank is also at the center of one of the largest money-laundering cases in history, involving Danske, Denmark’s largest bank. Authorities are investigating $233 billion in suspicious transactions moving through the bank’s tiny branch in Estonia — nearly 10 times larger than that country’s gross domestic product. Deutsche Bank helped transfer funds on behalf of Danske, which has said it has improved its internal systems to fight financial crime.
Deutsche Bank has said it is cooperating with all investigations and has not been told it violated any laws in its relationship with Danske.
“We believe it is time for shareholders to hold [Deutsche] accountable for the many years of substantial monetary and reputational costs to the bank borne by shareholders,” Institutional Shareholder Services, a proxy advisory firm, said in a note recommending that shareholders issue a vote of no confidence to the bank’s board. The board ultimately survived the vote.
Most pressing to many shareholders is the bank’s continuing struggle to rebound from the financial crisis. The European economy recovered more slowly than that of the United States, and so did its banks. But Deutsche’s recovery has been particularly slow, analysts say.
It reported a profit of $341 million last year compared with a loss of $735 million in 2017, but that still disappointed investors. On Sunday, the bank announced it would report a more than $3 billion loss for its second quarter, in part, to pay for the restructuring. The bank considered a merger with its German rival Commerzbank earlier this year, but was plunged into more uncertainty after that deal fell through.
Deutsche’s “indecisiveness has been one of the main reasons why the market has been so skeptical of its turnaround plan,” Ibrahim said. “Since the financial crisis, the bank has seen numerous changes of management and strategy, none of which have been successfully executed.”
In the United States, where Deutsche has about 10 percent of its 91,000 employees, the bank is also facing challenges with its U.S. regulators. It has repeatedly failed an annual stress test proving that its U.S. operation could sustain itself during another global financial crisis without wreaking havoc on the economy.
“The crisis heightened the realization than non-U. S. large financial intuitions like Deutsche were even more fragile, had even less capital than was true of major U.S. banks,” said Larry White, a professor at NYU Stern School of Business. “Deutsche may well be too big to fail, too big to manage effectively.”