Mizuho Financial to Name Masahiro Kihara as Group CEO
(Bloomberg) -- Mizuho Financial Group Inc. is set to appoint an insider as its next chief executive officer to steer Japan’s third-largest banking group back from a series of technical disruptions, the latest of which struck on Tuesday.
The bank plans to name 56-year-old executive Masahiro Kihara as the next leader at a board meeting on Jan. 17, according to people with knowledge of the plans who asked not to be identified as the move was not public.
Kihara is due to take office in April 1, succeeding current CEO Tatsufumi Sakai who announced in November that he would step down after persistent glitches prompted rebukes from regulators. Yasuhiro Sasaki, a spokesman for Mizuho, said no decision had yet been made.
News of Kihara’s appointment, first reported by the Nikkei newspaper, comes as the group’s core lending unit Mizuho Bank Ltd. briefly suffered disruptions to its corporate internet banking system.
Tokyo-based Mizuho, the smallest of Japan’s three megabanks, has been dogged by IT disruptions since it was created from the merger of three banks more than 20 years ago. Its commercial arm has struggled with a series of system failures since February 2021. The disruptions have caused delays in millions of transactions, prompting Japan’s Financial Services Agency to issue business improvement orders.
The next CEO’s “immediate challenge is to take all the needed steps to start recovering the confidence of regulators and the public, that Mizuho won’t have more systems troubles in the future, after so many failures in the past,” said Michael Makdad, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Tokyo.
Highlighting the challenges for Kihara, Tuesday’s disruption triggered a new reprimand from the government.
“It’s extremely regrettable to have systems trouble,” Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki told reporters. “Banks are key social infrastructure.” The bank said the outage has been resolved.
Several Mizuho officials, who asked not to be identified, said that while Kihara had been considered a CEO candidate, many had still thought the older and more experienced Vice President Seiji Imai would be chosen.
Kihara is a senior executive officer and head of the global products unit, which handles investment banking businesses such as syndicated loans, bond issues and mergers advice. A career insider, he joined what is today’s Mizuho in 1989 and has also had stints in areas including risk management and finance.
Kihara’s background in risk management was considered a particular strength, the Mizuho officials said.
He is the older brother of Seiji Kihara, Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary and a close aide of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Toyoki Sameshima, an analyst at SBI Securities Co., focused on Kihara’s relative youth.
“He could reinvigorate the organization,” Sameshima said, adding that he hadn’t verified the reports himself. He also said that there had been some speculation that the bank may hire an outsider.
Sameshima said it may be best to appoint a chairman from outside Mizuho to bring independent perspective to the group.
In the business order, Japan’s Financial Services Agency criticized Mizuho’s corporate culture and weak governance, saying it has failed to learn from the past incidents.
The latest series of glitches started in February, when ATMs swallowed more than 5,000 cash cards and passbooks. A month later, a hardware failure caused a delay in 300 foreign-currency money transfers. By the time Sakai announced his planned departure, there had been eight such incidents since the beginning of 2021.
Kihara will also be tasked with making Mizuho more competitive, after bigger rivals have made bold bets to expand beyond traditional lending into investment banking and wealth management.
Mizuho has also been diversifying. In its latest move, the bank agreed to buy U.S.-based Capstone Partners to expand in the business of helping private equity firms raise funds. The deal is slated to be completed in the first half of the year, the bank said in a statement on Monday.
Sakai, who became CEO in 2018, has been trying to reshape the bank and change its corporate culture. He made major modifications to its organizational structure to focus resources on growth areas and rein in costs. Despite the system troubles, Mizuho reported sharp profit growth for the first half ended in September and announced its first dividend hike in seven years.
Morningstar’s Makdad said improving Mizuho’s financial performance is one of Sakai’s achievements. But “the challenge of corporate culture – where Mizuho two decades after its three-way merger still has yet to really fully integrate as one group – couldn’t be conquered for good during his tenure,” he said.
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