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CNBC Transcript: Interview with Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Credit Suisse


Following are excerpts from the transcript of a CNBC interview by Steve Sedgwick and Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Credit Suisse.

SS: I'm delighted to welcome first onto CNBC, we've got Tidjane Thiam, who is the CEO of Credit Suisse joining us now. Tidjane, nice to see you.

TT: Nice to see you, very nice to see you.

SS: How are you, my friend?

TT: Very well, how are you?

SS: Good, good, nice easy drive up from Zurich?

TT: It's very short, an hour and a half. My shortest trip to Davos ever, in 20 years.

SS: And how is Davos this year, as far as you're concerned? I mean, you're a man who keeps his finger on the pulse, do you think it's downbeat? Or it's anxious, I would suggest?

TT: I think you hear both. I was at two events yesterday night, you hear all the worries about China and commodities and Europe. Personally I still remain on the positive side, because oil, as actually I heard you say earlier, is an issue for the oil sector, but globally it's great news for all the oil importing countries, where most of the population in the world lives. It's great news for the US economy, and the US consumer, who's been really supporting world growth. So net, yes, there is some collateral damage we've had, but I think it's been actually a tailwind for the world economy in 2015.

SS: And our previous guest, Nils Smedegaard Andersen was saying, 'Look, Europe's had three big boosts.' It's got a low Euro, which makes it more competitive, it's got the oil price, and then he mentioned quantitative easing, as well, and it's on that latter point I wanted to come to you. Does Europe need more quantitative easing?

TT: Well, it's connected to the whole competitiveness issue, and the lack of growth, and also the worries about the embedding of low inflation expectations, which is something that worries Mr Draghi very much, and rightly so. Personally, I think Europe is in the best position it's been since 2010, that's our house view, and we actually have the same view on emerging markets, which is from 2010 to 2015, they have systematically underperformed expectations, and we think for 2016, things are on the other side, so we expect emerging markets to do better next year. We've reviewed upward our forecast. So really, overall, not as pessimistic or not as negative as one can be.

SS: In terms of your focus at Credit Suisse, it's still very important for you, as it was at Pru, that old company you used to be at as well, to grow in emerging markets and grow in Asia. Is it much more difficult to grow Credit Suisse in Asia in 2016 than it was to grow Prudential in Asia in 2012?

TT: Well, I'm just being careful, because we are in the closed period, so clearly I cannot say anything about our performance, but my global view on Asia remains very positive. I think you are kind of calling me a one idea man, maybe I am, but I-,

SS: No, not at all, there's plenty of other ideas we need to go through, as well, but it's a good idea if it works-,

TT: It's a good idea-,

SS: And if it worked for you once, why can't it work for you again?

TT: It works, and really, actually, I've always liked times like this. If you look at Prudential, we had a big push from 2010 to 2012, and what was 2010, it was the immediate post-crisis environment, and there are people who are withdrawing from Asia, it's only 70% of the world population, they will come back, you are at risk there of selling low and buying high, because at some point you will have to come back. Nobody can ignore Asia. Again, 70% of the world population.

SS: Now, I appreciate you're in a closed period, as well, but how is the transformation going for you at Credit Suisse, as well? It's very tough when you're cutting jobs, a lot of issues about cutting jobs in London, people talking about 1,800 jobs there, and obviously elsewhere within the investment bank as well, how tough is it?

TT: Look, obviously we will give a full update on February 4th, I think we set out a very clear plan on October 21st. There is always comments on the share price and the fact that it went up when I was appointed and now it's down. Actually, when I was appointed CEO, announced CEO of Prudential, the share price went up 16%, and 8% this time, so what happens then is you have to deliver. You know, I never expected the share price to stay at those levels. Now I have two or three years to deliver for shareholders, and frankly, as CEO you have to prove yourself every time. That's only fair. So we are implementing our plan.

SS: Because you had to take on those shareholders who didn't like the idea of the AIA deal. They won, but then perhaps your idea won over longer term as well. Are you finding similar resistance from any parties at Credit Suisse?

TT: Well, you know, it's-, you mean inside? No, inside the company there's a very good alignment. People are really behind the strategy.

SS: And the shareholders?

TT: And with shareholders too, shareholders too. In the end, you set out your stand, you say what you want to do, and people will say in the end, in the long term, you have the shareholders you deserve.

SS: There's always speculation around you.

TT: Really?

SS: You're seen as one of the hottest properties in Europe, and globally, as well. Have you heard the latest reports, which I understand are coming out of France, that are linking you with the IMF job?

TT: Well, my sister sent me the email yesterday, I was at dinner, and she doesn't write to me very often, so she sent me the article-,

SS: That's nice of her, to let you know.

TT: Yes, it's very nice, so what I can say about that is that first of all, Christine Lagarde did a phenomenal job. I think it's public that I'm a fan, I've been on the record, and really I've only had one career strategy always, is to try to do my current job well, and I think that's wise, so I'm very focused on Credit Suisse and on delivering what I am committed to delivering at Credit Suisse.

SS: If the role of Chief of the IMF were to come up, and your name was put front and foremost in that, would you be tempted to take that job?

TT: I don't know how many interviews we've done, you know I never speculate, so-,

SS: Probably about 20 interviews.

TT: Exactly, so no-, exactly, no answer to speculative questions. I am very focused on my job, I have a big job to do, and I am doing to the best of my ability.

SS: I've got to ask you about the Swaggerometer. Now you've already actually had a little play with the Swaggerometer. We did let you have a little sneaky go.

TT: I hope it's not on camera.

SS: No, that wasn't, but what you do next will be on camera, because I think you're actually going to show your usual optimism here on the-, this is about Europe and its performance in 2016, and where you think we could get to.

TT: Actually, if I may, I have never been optimistic on Europe. I'm actually quite on the record as a Euro bear, so I think that the fact that I swing to the positive here, I hope is meaningful.

SS: That is meaningful.

TT: I think, as I said earlier, I think Europe is in a-, the thing with Europe is that it always comes through. It's just sometimes a bit slow.

SS: It always comes through? It very, very slowly comes through.

TT: Exactly. It's slow. It's slow. It's slow.

SS: And 2016 will see a calm, stable year? We're not going to see problems in southern Europe affecting everything?

TT: I have never not seen a problem in Europe, you know, so that's the nature of Europe. If you're moving at 27 or 28-, just try to take 27 human beings for anything, and you'll see the challenge. So trying to do it with 27 countries is challenging.

SS: Let alone the board of Credit Suisse. Well, very briefly, as well, how are markets for you at the moment? I mean, they're obviously very volatile

TT: I was on record in the last quarter, if you get our outlook statement in Q3, it was very, very negative, talking about difficult market conditions, low levels of trading activity, low levels of client insurance, pressures on fixed income certain trading, and we've seen all those trends continue. Difficult markets, difficult markets. It's-, every time we have an inflection, we saw that in 2011, there's a lot of pain in the market, in the adjustment process, and this is what we're going through.

SS: Tidjane, always a pleasure, thank you very much indeed.

TT: Thank you very much.