Banks

Commerzbank cuts revenue forecast as board approves overhaul

Key Points
  • Commerzbank no longer expects a rise in underlying revenue this year.
  • Bettina Orlopp will succeed Stephan Engels as chief financial officer.
The Commerzbank AG logo sits on an illuminated sign outside a bank branch as the bank's headquarters stand beyond at dusk in Frankfurt, Germany, on Monday, Feb. 5, 2017. 
Alex Kraus | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Commerzbank no longer expects a rise in underlying revenue this year, the German lender warned on Thursday, as its supervisory board approved plans announced last week to cut thousands of staff and close a fifth of its branches.

The bank, partly owned by the German government after a bailout, is undertaking the strategy overhaul after its attempt to merge with Deutsche Bank failed.

It also said on Thursday that board member Bettina Orlopp would succeed Stephan Engels as chief financial officer, while Sabine Schmittroth would become board member responsible for human resources.

"Over the course of 2019, the market environment has continued to deteriorate further. This has been particularly evident in the corporate clients business," Commerzbank said, explaining the downgrade in its revenue expectations.

The supervisory board also approved plans to sell a stake in the bank's Polish subsidiary mBank and absorb its Comdirect online brokerage unit.

VIDEO3:5303:53
Commerzbank CFO: Low revenue due to current interest rate environment

The lender flagged the strategic overhaul last week.

The measures were approved by the board during a two-day meeting.

Among the plans, the bank will cut 4,300 jobs in some places but add 2,000 jobs in "strategic areas", so the group headcount will fall in total by about 2,300 full-time positions, equivalent to about 5.7% of its workforce. It now employs about 40,700 people.

Commerzbank said the strategy would involve investment of 1.6 billion euros ($1.8 billion), with 750 million euros going into new technology and the rest earmarked for restructuring.

Outgoing CEO Stephan Engels told CNBC's Annette Weisbach on Friday that the lender had seen "pressure on margins, rates as well as on customer activity," which necessitated the profit warning. He also said the bank held a "soberingly realistic view on the current interest rate environment."

"In that interest rate environment, getting to a 4%, maybe 5%, return on equity, this is something that pays for your growth, that pays your dividend, and if we get to 5% also has quite some value potential for the stock," Engels added.

"In that sense, yes you can debate it doesn't earn cost of capital - that's true - but secondly, you realistically need to take a view on what is possible in the negative interest rate environment like this."

VIDEO2:3402:34
Commerzbank making a renewed focus on digital strategy, expert says

Germany's banks have been battling a legacy of bad debts, bloated workforces and fines a decade after the global financial crash. Commerzbank had already been reducing staff and is trying to cut back-office work to restore profitability.

Its restructuring plan is negative for the German lender's credit rating, ratings agency Moody's has said.

The agency said plans to sell mBank would "further limit the bank's growth potential given that mBank meaningfully contributed to the group's revenue and profits, and its growth".