Credit Suisse's Thiam Wins Backing for Pay Plan After Bonus Cut

(Bloomberg) -- Credit Suisse Group AG shareholders backed a 48 million-franc ($48 million) pay package for the bank’s most senior executives, after investor opposition forced them to give up 40 percent of their bonuses.

Shareholders at the bank’s annual general meeting on Friday approved 17 million francs for achieving short-term targets and 31 million francs in shares for performance tied to long-term goals. Chairman Urs Rohner, who admitted that the initial proposal may have been “insufficiently sensitive,” was re-elected by 91 percent.

Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam and 12 other management board members offered earlier this month to cut their bonuses to quell criticism. While that satisfied some investors, including Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, others say the payouts are still too generous for a bank that has posted two straight annual losses. About 38 percent of shareholders opposed the reduced short-term pay proposal.

“We hope that this decision on compensation will alleviate some of the concerns that have been expressed and will allow us to continue to focus our full attention on the task at hand,” Thiam said in separate remarks, adding that he expects 2017 to be a positive year for Switzerland’s second-largest bank.

Shortly after he began talking, activists from environment group Greenpeace dropped from the ceiling, suspended by ropes, and unfurled a banner over the podium protesting the bank’s dealings with companies behind the Dakota-Access oil pipeline. Unperturbed, Thiam continued with his presentation, saying he respects their freedom of speech.

Credit Suisse's Thiam Wins Backing for Pay Plan After Bonus Cut

Greenpeace activists hang a banner during the annual shareholders meeting.

Photographer: Michael Buholzer/AFP/Getty Images

Swiss laws introduced in 2015 require companies listed in the country to give shareholders a binding vote on board and executive pay. While successful revolts are rare for leading companies, shareholders in Swiss asset manager GAM Holding AG on Thursday rejected bonuses for its executive board.

The mood among shareholders may have improved after the bank posted its best quarter Wednesday since it embarked on a costly overhaul in October 2015. Credit Suisse also bowed to pressure from investors to raise capital through a share sale instead of an initial public offering of part of its Swiss business, its most profitable unit.

Even with the cut, Thiam is still the second best-paid CEO among European peers with a total compensation of 10.24 million francs. Switzerland’s other big bank, UBS Group AG, is proposing to pay CEO Sergio Ermotti 13.7 million francs.

Thiam’s Strategy

Credit Suisse shareholders also approved 12 million francs in maximum compensation for the board of directors, instead of the 12.5 million francs originally proposed. 

Credit Suisse is reshaping its business model to expand in wealth management and emerging markets like China. Thiam, a former insurance executive, has downsized the investment bank, the business that made Credit Suisse one of the biggest names on Wall Street but that has become more expensive since the 2008 financial crisis due to tougher capital requirements.
Major investors including Harris Associates have said they support Credit Suisse’s compensation plan. Norway’s wealth fund said the bonus cuts demonstrated that directors listened to shareholder concerns.

Credit Suisse’s stock fell 33 percent last year, with tough markets, surprise trading losses and legal cases sapping confidence in its strategy. Charges tied to a settlement over its crisis-era mortgage securities business pushed the bank into a 2.7 billion-franc loss.