Commerzbank Weighs 7,000 Job Cuts, 400 Branch Closures

Commerzbank AG’s leaders, accused of “abject failure” by their top private shareholders, are preparing a response that would raise cost-cutting and profitability targets.

Chief Executive Officer Martin Zielke may eliminate more than 7,000 jobs and close about 400 branches in the wake of a broadside by Cerberus Capital Management over the pace of cost-cutting efforts, according to people familiar with the matter. The final goals haven’t been decided, partly because some executives are skeptical whether such cuts are feasible. Less extreme reductions are also under consideration, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

Commerzbank Weighs 7,000 Job Cuts, 400 Branch Closures

Zielke and Chief Financial Officer Bettina Orlopp may present the cost-reduction targets as the cornerstone of a broader restructuring plan at a meeting of the supervisory board on Wednesday, the people said.

“We decline to comment on speculation,” a spokeswoman for Commerzbank said. “We plan to disclose the details of our cost project the latest with our Q2 numbers. Currently, different options and scenarios are being discussed. No decisions have been taken.”

Zielke and Supervisory Board Chairman Stefan Schmittmann have come under criticism from Cerberus, Commerzbank’s second-biggest shareholder after the government. It’s lobbying for change after seeing the value of its stake eroded. The stock, which traded close to 14 euros in January 2018, touched a low of 2.80 euros in March this year.

Commerzbank said in February that it’s working on deeper cost cuts after Zielke’s previous plan, presented less than a year ago, was widely rejected by investors as disappointing.

Targets Missed

Zielke has previously missed several of his own cost-reduction targets. Four years ago, he announced a plan to cut a net 7,300 positions but ended up with a reduction of just 3,600. The lender currently has a workforce of roughly 40,000.

The new plan may double the existing cost-cutting target and increase by more than half the profitability goal, Bloomberg has reported. It will also include a shift away from branches to focus more on digital channels, partly in response to changes in customer behavior brought about by the coronavirus crisis, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Cerberus is unlikely to see a mere increase of cost-cutting targets as sufficient because it doubts the bank’s leadership will be able to implement them, people familiar with the fund’s thinking said.

The New York-based fund recently sent letters to Schmittmann lambasting Commerzbank’s supervisory and management boards for lacking resolve to execute announced measures to streamline the bank, Bloomberg has reported.

A spokesperson for Cerberus didn’t reply to a message seeking comment.

More job cuts are heavily opposed by labor representatives, who have half of the seats on the bank’s supervisory board. Some top executives are also concerned that implementing sweeping job reductions will be hard and expensive to push through given Germany’s strict labor laws.

Read: Cerberus to Intensify Commerzbank Battle After Board Pushback

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