Danske chair­man is forced out amid botched cri­sis re­sponse

Gulf Times Business - - BUSINESS -

The main share­holder in Danske Bank just made clear it won’t stand by and watch the chair­man mud­dle through the len­der’s big­gest cri­sis in a cen­tury.

As Danske finds it­self at the cen­tre of one of Europe’s worst ever money laun­der­ing scan­dals, A.P. Moller Hold­ing used its roughly 20% stake in the bank to force chair­man Ole An­der­sen out.

The stun­ning an­nounce­ment fol­lows the 62-year-old An­der­sen’s failed at­tempt to win ap­proval for his cho­sen can­di­date for chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. The sheer scale of Danske’s dirty money scan­dal, much of which over­lapped with his ten­ure, also made An­der­sen’s con­tin­ued pres­ence un­ten­able.

Robert Ug­gla, the CEO of A.P. Moller Hold­ing, said Danske’s board had sim­ply been “too slow” in deal­ing with the fall­out of the laun­der­ing cri­sis. “We be­lieve it was nec­es­sary to make a de­ci­sion now,” he said on a con­fer­ence call on Tues­day.

Shares in the bank opened as much as 3.8% yes­ter­day, and traded at their high­est level in about three weeks, af­ter in­vestors di­gested the news. Danske has ad­mit­ted that a large part of about $230bn that flowed through a tiny Es­to­nian unit was prob­a­bly sus­pi­cious in ori­gin. The bank is now the tar­get of crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions in sev­eral ju­ris­dic­tions, in­clud­ing the US, and has re­ported mul­ti­ple em­ploy­ees to the po­lice.

The trans­ac­tions at the cen­tre of the scan­dal al­legedly took place be­tween 2007 and 2015. An­der­sen be­came chair­man in 2011 and wasn’t due to step down un­til March next year. Danske still hasn’t found a per­ma­nent chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer to re­place Thomas Bor­gen, who was re­moved from the bank last month for his role in the laun­der­ing scan­dal. An­der­sen had hinted in Septem­ber that he would prob­a­bly need to leave too, but said he wanted to stay on a bit longer to com­plete the “task” at hand. That task in­cluded find­ing a re­place­ment for Bor­gen.

But An­der­sen’s pro­tege, Ja­cob Aarup-An­der­sen, was re­jected by the Fi­nan­cial Su­per­vi­sory Au­thor­ity last month. The rea­son given was that the 40-year-old head of Danske’s wealth unit es­sen­tially lacked the rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence.

A.P. Moller Hold­ing wants An­der­sen, once a ti­tan of Den­mark’s cor­po­rate scene, to be re­placed by Karsten Dy­b­vad, who is the head of the Dan­ish Con­fed­er­a­tion of In­dus­try and is the same age as the out­go­ing chair­man. The in­vestor has de­manded an ex­traor­di­nary gen­eral meet­ing within two weeks to dis­cuss the changes it says are needed.

Ug­gla said A.P. Moller Hold­ing won’t in­ter­fere in the ac­tual se­lec­tion of a new CEO. The in­vestor wants “to be a very ac­tive owner in Danske Bank, but it’s the job of the board to find a new CEO,” he said. Ug­gla also ques­tioned whether Danske’s se­lec­tion process was aligned with its in­ter­ests.

Danske said it has had “talks with sev­eral ma­jor share­hold­ers.” It was agreed that “ex­traor­di­nary and ex­ten­sive changes are nec­es­sary as part of the process of re­cov­er­ing the con­fi­dence of all the bank’s stake­hold­ers,” the bank said.

Shares in Danske fell as much as 2.3% in Copen­hagen, bring­ing its losses this year to about 45%. The bank is the worst per­form­ing fi­nan­cial stock in Europe since the end of De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to an in­dex com­piled by Bloomberg.

Robin Rane, an an­a­lyst at Ke­pler Cap­i­tal Mar­kets, said A.P. Moller’s pro­posal is “not very sur­pris­ing” given the depth of the laun­der­ing cri­sis. “It’s im­por­tant to have peo­ple in there who are per­ceived as re­li­able and com­pe­tent. It’s a storm.”

Some of Danske’s most high-pro­file in­vestors were quick to chime in. At ATP, Den­mark’s big­gest pen­sion fund with about $120bn in as­sets, CEO Chris­tian Hyl­dahl said he “fully sup­ported” the choice of Dy­b­vad to re­place An­der­sen as chair­man. He high­lighted Dy­b­vad’s “un­der­stand­ing of so­ci­ety” as a key qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the job.

“The board faces a very big task in re­build­ing trust in the bank,” Hyl­dahl said.

Danske Bank chair­man Ole An­der­sen pauses dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Copen­hagen. The stun­ning an­nounce­ment of his ouster fol­lows his failed at­tempt to win ap­proval for his cho­sen can­di­date for CEO.

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