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Circling Rivals

Who’s Afraid of Deutsche Bank?

VonChristopher Cermak

Deutsche Bank once towered over its peers in Germany. While it’s still the country’s largest, it is vulnerable in the eyes of many of its rivals.

Deutsche Bank

Germany’s biggest annual banking conference opened as it usually does this week – with a speech by the boss of Germany’s largest bank. Only it wasn’t the chief executive that most people would have been hoping to hear.

John Cryan, who became Deutsche Bank’s co-chief executive in July, has remained out of public view since his appointment.

Instead it was Jürgen Fitschen, the outgoing co-CEO who will leave next May, who opened Handelsblatt’s “Banks in Transition” conference in the German financial capital Frankfurt.

The fact that Mr. Cryan didn’t appear is largely because he is busy with a deep and painful restructuring – an effort to cut costs and return the bank to profitability. He is expected to announce results of his review in October.

But it also signaled that Germany’s largest bank is vulnerable. Like many big global banks, Deutsche Bank has been looking inward since the 2008 financial crisis. Its heady expansion into global investment banking in the 1990s and early 2000s has been halted and is about to be reversed.

While bankers don’t tend to comment directly about their rivals, comments made over two days of panel debates and interviews in Frankfurt suggested Deutsche Bank is not the powerhouse that it once was, and nor is it seen as a major threat to other banks’ business.

Asked whether they hope to profit from Deutsche Bank’s restructuring, most bankers tend to shrug. The focus for many bankers here was more on the challenges posed by younger, innovative financial-technology companies – “fintechs” – a fast-growing segment that is threatening to revolutionize Germany’s traditional banking industry.

To continue reading this story, click here to Handelsblatt's Global Edition.

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