Ex-Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann set to join Commerzbank

Former Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann is to become chair of Commerzbank next year, the German lender announced on Saturday in a surprise move that marks a crucial vote of confidence in a bank that has long been seen as a takeover candidate.

Weidmann, a widely respected economist and former top adviser of then-chancellor Angela Merkel, resigned as the head of Germany’s central bank last year after a 10-year stint.

Commerzbank said Weidmann would be “proposed . . . as a new member of the supervisory board” at its annual shareholder meeting in May next year, adding that he “will also be available as chair of the supervisory board, if he is elected”.

The bank said that the move was backed by the German government, which is the largest shareholder with a 15.6 per cent stake since it bailed out Commerzbank during the financial crisis more than a decade ago. Weidmann, who was Merkel’s key economic adviser in the chancellery in Berlin at the time, was one of the architects of the rescue.

Commerzbank has been in a long-running crisis after it merged with struggling rival Dresdner Bank at the height of the financial crisis. Shares in the bank have fallen by nearly 98 per cent since their peak in 2007. The bank, which is one of the biggest lenders to Germany’s small and medium sized firms, has also been demoted from the country’s blue-chip index Dax due to its diminished market capitalisation.

Analysts have long seen Commerzbank as a takeover candidate. Domestic rival Deutsche Bank walked away from a merger in 2019 and the Ukraine war derailed a potential transaction with Italian lender UniCredit earlier this year.

Commerzbank’s 71-year old chair Helmut Gottschalk, whose term will expire in May, decided against seeking another term “due to his age”, the bank said on Saturday.

A former chief executive of a regional co-operative bank and then chair of DZ Bank, Gottschalk was called in from retirement last year after his predecessor Hans-Jörg Vetter resigned with immediate effect after just eight months in the job due to health reasons.

54-year old Weidmann will be the fourth chair in three years. Stefan Schmittmann resigned alongside chief executive Martin Zielke in an acrimonious boardroom battle in 2020.

Private equity group Cerberus, which at the time held a stake of more than 5 per cent, had pushed for a management overhaul as it warned the bank’s future was on the line. New chief executive Manfred Knof has kicked off a radical restructuring and led the bank back to profitability.

“Commerzbank has made great progress over the past one and a half years,” Gottschalk said in a statement, adding that it had “good chances for shaping a sustainably successful future as an independent force in the German banking market”.

Jens Weidmann declined to comment.

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