Christian Sewing has had his work cut out for him this year.
The Deutsche Bank CEO may not have overseen all of the myriad issues that have arisen at the German institution in recent years, but he’s now charged with shepherding the fallout—most significantly, the seismic decision this summer to slash a fifth of the bank’s workforce and close its global equities trading business.
The move seeks to restore Deutsche to profitability in the long-term, but for the time being, it’s been a painful development that will cost the bank more than $8 billion over the next three years and leaves more questions than answers about what its future will look like.
With Deutsche’s stock continuing to hover below $8 per share, it appears that investors, too, are wary that there will be more pain than gain for the time being. With that in mind, Sewing has taken measures to bolster confidence in Deutsche Bank and ensure the public that it’s on the right track—most notably, staking an increasing amount of his own money on the company’s stock.
This week, it emerged that Sewing has followed up on his pledge to personally put “my money where my mouth is” by launching a commitment to invest 15% of his monthly salary into purchasing Deutsche Bank shares. According to Deutsche Bank filings, he’s poured more than $48,000 of his own money into the bank’s stock over the course of July and August—or more than $24,000 per month. (Similarly, Deutsche Bank chairman Paul Achleitner bought nearly 1 million euros, or $1.1 million, worth of Deutsche Bank shares last month.)
Sewing is expected to continue to keep up the monthly program through the end of 2022, during which the bulk of Deutsche Bank’s restructuring efforts will play out. In total, Sewing is expected to invest around 850,000 euros ($938,000) in the company’s shares over the next three-and-a-half years. The CEO earned a base salary of nearly 3.3 million euros ($3.6 million) in 2018, according to the bank’s most recent annual report, though bonuses pushed Sewing’s overall compensation to over 7 million euros ($7.7 million) last year.
At a time when Sewing is helming drastic change at Deutsche Bank—the kind that could cost nearly 20,000 people their jobs—his commitment to tying a decent chunk his own base salary to his company’s success (or failure) is a valuable piece of optics for investors exposed to a stock that has fallen 38% from its 52-week high last September.
“Skin in the game is critical for CEOs, and I think in the banking sector it’s particularly important,” according to Renny Ponvert, CEO of independent research firm Management CV, which analyzes executive teams on behalf of institutional investors.
Ponvert notes that most bank stocks are now characterized as “value stocks” given their relative affordability per metrics like price-earnings ratio.
“The premise of a value stock is that you’re buying something that’s discounted versus its future cash flow, and it’s underpriced in some manner,” he says. “If you look at [bank stocks] in terms of price-to-earnings and price-to-book [ratios], they’re dirt cheap right now.”
Given that dynamic, it’s incumbent on the executive leadership of such companies to show that they believe in their own stock’s upside—and not just through receiving a good portion of their salary in the form of stock-based compensation, as many CEOs do.
“If you’re the CEO of a value stock, and the primary premise for most of the people investing is your cheap valuation, then you’d hope that’d be reflected in the CEO’s ownership [of the stock],” Ponvert adds. “I get tired of these [CEOs] bragging about their ‘ownership’ [in their company]—but when you look at it, it’s just stock and equity bonuses… It’s all upside, there’s no cash being put in.”
While some may commend Sewing for his display of faith in Deutsche Bank’s prospects, that doesn’t mean the bank isn’t facing a long, challenging road ahead irrespective of his dedication to the company and its future.
“I understand that Sewing is doing this to send a signal about his commitment to the bank and the restructuring, but I think a lot of things here are out of his control,” says Mayra Rodriguez Valladares, managing principal at capital markets consultancy MRV Associates.
With the major ratings agencies like S&P and Fitch downgrading Deutsche in recent months, and a slew of issues—such as its alleged involvement in the Danske Bank money laundering scandal and investigations into Deutsche’s relationship with President Donald Trump—still hanging over the bank, it will likely take a lot more than Sewing’s stock purchasing program to restore faith in the troubled lender.
“This is a market signal [from Sewing] that, ‘Yes, I believe in this, and I’m going to turn this ship around’—but it’s the market that long ago stopped believing, and there are a lot of unknowns yet to come,” Valladares says. “To me, this looks like a desperate measure.”
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