Commerzbank shareholders criticize auditors EY

A large majority is in favor of EY still examining the bank in 2021. But a legal dispute is looming: Commerzbank has relied on Wirecard’s balance sheet, which has also been audited by EY, and is now complaining about a high loan default.

The CEO of Commerzbank Manfred Knof

Dhe shareholders of Commerzbank asked the Board of Management and the Supervisory Board at the virtual general meeting about the independence of the bank and the failure of its large loan to Wirecard. Some wanted to know whether Manfred Knof, who switched from Deutsche Bank to Commerzbank as CEO on January 1, 2021, was preparing a merger with Deutsche Bank. The two banks had unsuccessful merger talks in spring 2019. Knof replied that his strategy should by no means serve to bring about a merger with a competitor. Rather, he was there to secure “a long, independent future” for Commerzbank. “The German economy needs a strong, reliable and independent Commerzbank,” said Knof.

The management crisis in summer 2020 was no longer a big issue for the shareholders, when the chairman of the board of directors Martin Zielke and of the supervisory board Stefan Schmittmann made their posts available at the same time. As a result, CFO Bettina Orlopp was also acted as the new CEO. According to his own words, the new chairman of the supervisory board, Helmut Gottschalk, is now observing at the annual general meeting that with Knof at the helm, a management team is growing together. The election of four new members on Tuesday should also bring more consensus to the supervisory board.

The management consultant Daniela Mattheus, the former Telekom manager Caroline Seifert, the former DZ Bank board member Frank Westhoff and the insurance board member Burkhard Keese replace supervisory boards with which the representative of the major shareholder, Jutta Dönges, had fallen out. Probably because of these quarrels, the old supervisory board only received discharge from 86.9 percent of the voting shareholders. All other votes ended with approval rates for the proposals made by the administration of more than 99 percent.

Failure of the Wirecard credit costs 187 million

At the Annual General Meeting, shareholders asked many questions about the loan to the insolvent Wirecard AG, which – as of now – has cost Commerzbank 187 million euros. Knof and Orlopp said that Wirecard’s creditworthiness was not in doubt in view of the audited annual financial statements up to June 2020. Gottschalk said the supervisory board had not found any misconduct on the part of the management board. Because of the high relevance – Wirecard made up more than 10 percent of Commerzbank’s total risk provisioning in 2020 – the lending will be checked by an external law firm, said the chairman of the supervisory board. Commerzbank is also in the process of examining claims for damages, including those against the Wirecard management board.

Commerzbank could also take legal action against Wirecard’s auditor EY. This would be spicy because EY is also an auditor at Commerzbank and will not be replaced by KPMG until 2022. Many shareholders were in favor of this happening faster. Knof replied that KPMG would not have been available as auditor for the 2021 financial year, that only one other auditor was available, so that there was no selection. In addition, there is a need for a transition phase for the change of examiner, which will start this year. In the end, 99.5 percent of shareholders voted at the Annual General Meeting for EY to continue to review Commerzbank’s balance sheet in 2021.