Credit Suisse’s Fate Rests in the Hands of These Power Players

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A politician, an economist, and a mathematician are among the select group of power players who will determine the future of what was once Switzerland’s pre-eminent financial institution.

After a crisis of investor confidence, Credit Suisse Group AG is locked in emergency talks this weekend that are likely to end in the breakup of the 166-year-old bank. Longtime rival UBS Group AG is in negotiations with regulators about which parts of the firm it may acquire.

It’s a dramatic fall from grace for a titan of Switzerland’s all-powerful banking industry. The people at the epicenter are a small band of figures drawn from politics and finance. Here are some of the key players:

Karin Keller-Sutter, 59, has been Switzerland’s finance minister for less than three months. A member of the country’s pro-business liberals, she has been part of the seven-member government since 2019 and active in politics for 30 years. Before being elected to the government, she was on the board of insurer Baloise Holding AG and president of the Swiss Retail Federation. 

Urban Angehrn, born in 1965, has been leading Finma, the Swiss financial regulator, since November 2021. He worked for 14 years at Zurich Insurance and previously as head of strategy at Winterthur’s asset management division. Before that, he spent 11 years in derivatives marketing at Credit Suisse First Boston and JPMorgan Chase & Co. He earned a Masters degree in physics from ETH Zurich before completing a PhD in mathematics from Harvard.

Thomas Jordan, 60, has been chairman of the Swiss National Bank since April 2012. During his time, he has led the central bank through a phase of ultra-expansive monetary-policy, with the world’s lowest interest rate and currency interventions to stop the franc — a haven in times of market stress — from strengthening. The SNB started raising rates in June and ended negative rates in September. Jordan studied economics and business at the University of Bern. He has been at the SNB since 1997.

UBS’s chairman knows a crisis. Colm Kelleher, who took his current role less than a year ago, was Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer during the financial crisis of 2008. The 65-year-old helped orchestrate an emergency investment from Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. that, along with state assistance, kept the US bank afloat. He then helped oversee Morgan Stanley’s investment bank as it sought to win back clients lost in the panic. He retired from the firm in 2019 and joined UBS with the goal of replicating the success of Morgan Stanley’s strategy of scaling up in wealth management to win over investors.

UBS Group AG Chief Executive Officer Ralph Hamers, 56, cuts a somewhat unusual figure among top executives at Swiss banks, with his preference for open-necked shirts and business buzzwords. His arrival at UBS from Dutch lender ING Groep NV in 2020 was clouded by a legal battle over his role in a money laundering scandal. Since taking over in Zurich, he has been buoyed by robust results — though his strategy of making UBS a more digital bank was dealt a blow when he was forced to abandon his acquisition of Wealthfront, a US robo-adviser.

Credit Suisse Group AG Chairman Axel Lehmann knows both addresses on Paradeplatz well, having served as chief operating officer at UBS and president of its Swiss bank. The 63-year-old was appointed as a safer, more local pair of hands after Antonio Horta-Osorio was forced to depart following a scandal over Covid-era quarantine breaks. Lehmann has since made forceful efforts to shore up confidence in Credit Suisse — including a controversial episode late last year when he claimed that outflows of client assets from the bank had “basically stopped.” The bank’s subsequent admission that they hadn’t saw Lehmann briefly the subject of a regulatory probe, which was later dropped.

Another ex-UBS decision-maker, Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Koerner started his second stint at Credit Suisse in 2021 as head of the asset management unit before taking over the top job from Thomas Gottstein last year. The 60-year-old has the reputation of a ruthless cost-cutter, and the bank has claimed its effort to shed jobs since its October reboot is ahead of plan. The German-Swiss citizen ran Credit Suisse’s domestic bank in the early 2000s, having begun his career at McKinsey & Co. Inc.