Thiam lined up to head Credit Suisse

Tidjane Thiam, chief executive officer of Prudential Plc
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Tidjane Thiam, chief executive officer of Prudential Plc

Tidjane Thiam, the current chief executive of Britain's Prudential insurance group, has been lined up to replace Brady Dougan at the helm of Credit Suisse, according to people briefed on the plan.

Mr Thiam, who has led the Pru since 2009, previously worked at fellow insurer Aviva and before that as a management consultant at McKinsey. The Ivory Coast-born executive has not worked in banking, but is one of the most respected figures in the City of London.

An announcement could come as early as Tuesday morning, according to those briefed on the plan.

Trading of shares in the Pru was suspended on Tuesday in Hong Kong ahead of an announcement related to "inside information", the insurer said.

Mr Dougan is one of the longest-standing bank chief executives, having led Credit Suisse since before the financial crisis. He has come under pressure over the direction of Credit Suisse in recent years, particularly over a shake-up of the group that has been less far-reaching than one undertaken by Swiss rival UBS.

Swiss banks have come under renewed scrutiny this year after the dramatic surge in the value of the Swiss franc in the wake of the removal of the central bank's currency peg with the euro, and amid expectations of another round of regulatory gold-plating.

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The Credit Suisse share price has fallen 18 per cent over the past year, underperforming benchmarks.

Mr Dougan has been blamed by some leading shareholders for failing to grasp the extent of the change in investment banking in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Though he has been praised for having navigated the turmoil itself, the bank has been timid in reshaping its investment bank, taking four attempts at an overhaul that others accomplished in one swoop.

It has repeatedly missed targets, and maintained a 15 per cent return on equity target long after rivals had acknowledged that such returns were unachievable in a post-crisis world.

The bank sought to appease its critics last month by promising to cut an extra SFr50 billion-SFr70 billion from its assets in 2015 and holding dividends steady, defying expectations of a cut. Mr Dougan told the Financial Times then that he was hopeful the measures would address concerns about the bank. He also said there was no prospect of the more dramatic overhaul for which some analysts had called. The bank's shares rose as much as 9 per cent on the day, to SFr21.60. They have since rallied further, to SFr23.20.

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Mr Thiam's departure from the Pru will be a blow to the UK insurer, which has expanded aggressively in recent years. The company's share price has tripled under his leadership. He spoke in December of further aggressive expansion plans for the group's Asian business.

Back in 2010, investors were less enthusiastic, when Mr Thiam attempted a bold takeover of AIG's Asian unit AIA. Some pressed for his removal — a call that now looks short-sighted, given the subsequent strong performance of both the Pru's Asian franchise and AIA.

The Pru is expected by analysts to report strong performance when it unveils full-year results on Wednesday, allowing Mr Thiam to go out on a high.

The appointment of Mr Thiam at Credit Suisse will mark a cultural revolution not just for the bank but for the traditionally conservative Swiss corporate landscape. He becomes only the second black chief executive of a global bank. Stanley O'Neal led Merrill Lynch for four years up to 2007.

The move from insurance to banking raised some eyebrows in the City last night. One rival said: "Tidjane to become a banker? It does not look right to me."

Prudential and Credit Suisse both declined to comment.