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Credit Suisse CEO responds to calls for bank to break up — and will meet with activist investor

  • In recent weeks, a relatively small but top-performing activist hedge fund announced an ambitious plan to break up Credit Suisse
  • RBR Capital Advisors, led by outspoken trader Rudolf Bohli, said it hoped the bank's management would break the lender into three parts
  • "Why am I here? Why was there a change? Why are we engaging in this big restructuring program? It's because things were not optimal," Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam said Thursday

Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam staunchly defended his record as CEO of Switzerland's second-largest bank Thursday, despite calls from an activist investor for the lender to break up.

In recent weeks, a relatively small but top-performing activist hedge fund announced an ambitious plan to break up Credit Suisse. RBR Capital Advisors, led by outspoken trader Rudolf Bohli, said it hoped the bank's management would break the lender into three parts.

When it was put to Thiam that the level of returns investors could expect from the bank at present were below the industry standard, he replied, "Why am I here? Why was there a change? Why are we engaging in this big restructuring program? It's because things were not optimal."

Tapping into investor impatience with the bank's three-year turnaround project, RBR Capital Advisors called on Credit Suisse to split into an investment bank, a wealth manager and an asset manager in order to support share prices.

Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam delivers a speech during the annual shareholders' meeting of the Swiss banking group on April 28, 2017 in Zurich.
MICHAEL BUHOLZER | AFP | Getty Images
Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam delivers a speech during the annual shareholders' meeting of the Swiss banking group on April 28, 2017 in Zurich.

Credit Suisse has outperformed several European peers over the past 12 months, though its share price to date is barely half the level it was when Thiam took over in July 2015. And while the bank's earnings rose considerably in the three months through September, the Zurich-based lender still has a way to go to deliver the level of returns investors might hope for from a banking behemoth.

"It doesn't happen overnight, it's a big restructuring but as far as restructuring's go, this one is really progressing at an enormous pace," he added.

Thiam gets first profit hat-trick

The lender is currently in the second phase of its three-year restructuring program. It plans to focus on wealth management over investment banking and settle legal cases.

Credit Suisse posted a near six-fold year-on-year rise in third-quarter net profit on Thursday, beating analyst expectations. The results mark the first time the lender has posted three consecutive profitable quarters under the guidance of Thiam. The bank reported 244 million Swiss francs ($244 million) in third-quarter net profit, significantly above the 41 million Swiss francs posted for the same period last year.

"I don't want to sound complacent, we respect, listen to and welcome the views of all our investors," he said, before adding that although he had not yet met with RBR Capital Advisors' Rudolf Bohli, he was poised to meet with him next week.

"We gave a three-year program because that is how long it takes to get anywhere," he said.

Credit Suisse's shares were around 2 percent higher during early morning deals on Thursday.