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Horta-Osório’s departure is the revenge of rank and file

Call it revenge the rest of us.

Shortly after tennis star Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia for breaking Covid rules and revealing vandalism parties at Number 10 Downing Street, high-flying banker António Horta-Osório was resign as president by CreditSuisse. His position has become sacrosanct after a board investigation found he breached quarantine twice, each time in Switzerland and the UK, including entering to the Wimbledon final.

The revelations undercut his efforts to revamp the culture at the Swiss bank, which is struggling to stand up after a series of scandals that ranged from corporate espionage to failed risk management. . They also highlight an all-too-common attitude among world elites that rules are for others.

This was true before Covid. Actor Johnny Depp tried to sneak his dogs to Australia on a private jet in 2015. A year later, former Barclays boss Jes Staley twice tried to figure out the person’s identity. whistleblower in the first of two regulatory scandals. knocked him out last November.

And hundreds of green business executives and celebrities never seem to understand the hypocrisy of bringing their fuel-hungry yachts and private jets to conferences about Climate Change.

But the pandemic has imposed so many painful restrictions on so many people that the privileges of the few extend far beyond that.

At least the JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and actress Nicole Kidman received official permission to bypass Hong Kong’s draconian isolation requirements. Horta-Osório doesn’t seem to even do it. The Swiss newspaper Blick reported that before flying in and out of the country for three days in November, due to a breach of the 10-day quarantine, he had initially applied for an exemption from the government but was told that he We won’t get special treatment.

Some of Horta-Osório’s defenders are seeing the Portuguese’s departure as an example of the stern Swiss pushing out a foreigner making the necessary changes. International insiders agree that the bank’s culture is more Swiss-feeling than local rival UBS, and there is some history to back this argument. John Mack lasted only three years as chief executive, ending in 2004. Tidjane Thiam was ousted in 2020 and has described have to fight to be accepted as a French Ivory.

But that picture is not complete. Credit Suisse’s board of directors is international – eight of its directors are non-Swiss, and three others hold multiple passports. American Brady Dougan has been running the bank between Mack and Thiam for 8 years. And investors and boards really want reform after massive losses involving Greensill Capital and the Archegos family office are highlighted. structuring and managing the risk of failure

Horta-Osório’s failure to win the loyalty of his rank and record during his eight months as president has more to do with his style than his citizenship. Dashing and outspoken, he became one of the UK’s highest-paid bankers as a director of Lloyds Banking Group, where the married chief executive made a splash. for meeting another woman while on a business trip.

His experience is in retail banking rather than investment banking and wealth management. And unlike in the US, where CEOs also often head the board of directors, seats in Switzerland tend to set the parameters for department heads more.

As chairman, Horta-Osório captures the limelight and presents executives. He imposes his own vision through a small group instead of asking Thomas Gottstein, the lower-level Swiss executive, for recommendations. That contributes to the impression that he is serious and smug, especially after he was knighted in the summer for his work at Lloyds. Many people at the bank were sick of him even before Covid revealed.

Shares of Credit Suisse have fallen more than 20% over the past year. The bank drew a line in its investigation of corporate espionage and settled with regulators a separate scandal involving Mozambican tuna bonds. It has more people with strong risk management credentials, including Axel Lehmann, who will be the new president. But it’s unclear whether the new leaders can give Credit Suisse the restored international credibility it needs.

Horta-Osório did the right thing by admitting his Covid violations and resigning. He was too tinged with rule-breaking to force through a real cultural shift. But what does it say about accountability when the president of a Swiss bank has been held to a higher standard than the incumbent British prime minister?

brooke.masters@ft.com

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