Tidjane Thiam, A Non-Banker, Is Reviving Switzerland’s No. 2 Bank, Credit Suisse

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Credit Suisse
Tidjane Thiam is the man behind Credit Suisse’s turnaround. Thiam, Group Chief Executive, Prudential, speaks during the “Governing Global Growth: The New Context” session at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China, September 16, 2011. Copyright World Economic Forum/Nick Otto

Tidjane Thiam, a non-banker and dual citizen of France and Ivory Coast, is using his consultancy experience to revive Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-largest bank.

Thiam, 56, was a minister in the Ivory Coast government in the late 1990s, a consultant at McKinsey, and headed Aviva in Europe and British insurer Prudential.

He was selected to head Credit Suisse in 2015 when the Swiss bank was facing increased regulatory scrutiny for helping Americans to evade taxes via secret bank accounts. The bank reached a $2.5 billion settlement with U.S. authorities.

The first thing Thiam did on joining Credit Suisse was to draw up a three-year turnaround plan that involved cutting back and de-risking the investment bank while refocusing on the group’s powerful wealth management business, particularly in Asia.

The results have been mixed. Critics say he streamlined the investment bank too much while others believe that he could have streamlined it further.

Credit Suisse booked annual losses from 2015 through 2017 before turning a profit in 2018.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 67: Jamarlin Martin

Jamarlin goes solo to discuss the NFL’s entertainment and “social justice” deal with Jay-Z. We look back at the Barclays gentrification issue in the documentary “A Genius Leaves The Hood: The Unauthorized Story of Jay-Z.”

With the bank’s impressive second-quarter performance, including being the only investment bank to report improved trading revenue, Thiam seems to have proven his former critics wrong.

“If you had asked me a year and a half ago, I would have been negative on Credit Suisse and said (Thiam) was a dead man walking,” Octavio Marenzi, CEO of consulting firm Opimas, told the Wall Street Journal.

“He has pulled a rabbit out of the hat. He has been able to manage costs in a very disciplined way without sacrificing revenues too much.”

His charming alpha personality coupled with an intimidating and forceful reputation makes Thiam both revered and liked at the same time.

Credit Suisse for sale?

There has been a suggestion that he could be preparing Credit Suisse for a sale to Morgan Stanley in a bid to appease investors.

“Tidjane desperately needs to get the share price up, and the only way he can do that anytime soon is with a deal,” one senior banker told Financial News.