Why did Credit Suisse move a 56-year-old non-banker into a top Asian job?

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Why did Credit Suisse move a 56-year-old non-banker into a top Asian job?

When Credit Suisse reshuffled its management team yesterday, the bank’s statement emphasised the “diversity” of the new leaders – it now has three women on its executive committee. But if you work for Credit Suisse in Singapore or Hong Kong (or if you want to), the most interesting aspect of the revamp involves a 56-year-old Swiss man who isn’t a banker and who is stepping down from the board. Meet Peter Goerke.

Goerke was previously group head of human resources at Credit Suisse, a role he’d held since 2017 when he was promoted from head of HR for communications and branding. He’s now becoming a “senior advisor, new projects” – a role with a “focus on Asia and China in particular”, where growing headcount “remains a key priority”, according to the Credit Suisse statement.

While Goerke’s new job is in some ways a demotion, it is nevertheless critical. As CEO Tidjane Thiam increasingly pivots Credit Suisse toward Asian wealth management, Goerke is widely seen as a steady pair of hands to manage the recruitment aspects of this expansion. And despite his non-front-office background, he has history with Thiam. In 2015, the two men both moved to Credit Suisse from Prudential, where Goerke was group HR director and Thiam was CEO. “He’ll be Tidjane's man on the ground now for Asia, and a very close confidante,” says former Merrill Lynch banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. Credit Suisse did not reply to a request to comment on where Goerke will be based.

Goerke will be challenged in his growth-focused new role. Credit Suisse is the second largest private bank in Asia by assets and front-office headcount, but some of its rivals have recently been expanding more rapidly. Credit Suisse’s headcount of relationship managers in Asia fell by 10 to 580 last year. Its main rival, UBS, added 101 private bankers over the same period, while firms including HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Julius Baer have also been ramping up their workforces. In an effort to keep hold of more private bankers, Credit Suisse is now clawing back bonuses for MDs in Asia, but Goerke will also need to ensure that headcount ticks up, despite the competitive job market.

While private banking recruitment centres on Hong Kong and Singapore, Goerke is likely to be tasked with adding headcount across the firm’s operations in mainland China. Credit Suisse is seeking regulatory approval to increase its stake in its Chinese joint venture, CS Founder Securities, from 33% to 51%.  It’s also now cross selling more private banking products to wealthy Chinese investment banking clients. “I think Peter Goerke’s main role will be to help reorganise the China business and align it with the rest of the bank,” says Sen from Boyden.

In his new job, Goerke will be focused on Asia for the first time in a career that dates back to 1989 and includes senior Switzerland-based stints at Zurich Financial Services, Egon Zehnder, and McKinsey & Company. “He may face challenges in this role. Every time a Swiss bank has tried to install a ‘Swiss attitude’ in Asia, it’s failed,” says Sen. “In Asia, you must understand what clients need in terms of products and services, and then structure your product offering to suit local, not global, requirements.”

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Image credit: Benoit Bruchez, Getty

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