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Credit Suisse chair avoids regulatory action over outflow claims

The Swiss markets regulator has closed its investigation into comments made by Credit Suisse chair Axel Lehmann about customer outflows, saying there are no sufficient grounds for supervisory proceedings.

Finma said on Friday that it had concluded a probe it began last month into possible violations of financial market law over remarks made by Lehmann in December during the final days of the bank’s crucial capital raise.

“After completing its investigations, it sees no sufficient grounds to open supervisory proceedings,” the regulator said.

“However, it has set out clearly what it expects of the bank regarding its future communications.”

Lehmann told media outlets, including the Financial Times and Bloomberg, at the start of December that customer outflows had “completely flattened out” and “basically stopped” following a period of heavy bleeding by the Zurich-headquartered lender.

But when Credit Suisse reported its results for the fourth quarter last month, the bank revealed that outflows had continued throughout December and into January, though at a far slower pace than in October and November.

This prompted Finma to look into the accuracy of Lehmann’s comments. Credit Suisse senior managers, including chief executive Ulrich Körner, had also looked into the matter, said people familiar with the matter.

Customers withdrew SFr111bn ($121bn) from the group in the final three months of 2022, with two-thirds of the outflows coming in October when the bank was hit by rumours on social media about its financial health.

The wealth management business accounted for SFr92.7bn of the outflows in the quarter, surpassing the SFr61.9bn expected by analysts.

At the time of Lehmann’s interviews, Credit Suisse was trying to convince shareholders to take part in a rights issue that would help the bank raise the SFr4bn it needed to pay for a radical restructuring.

The bank’s shares hit a then all-time low of SFr2.70 the day before Lehmann’s first interview with the FT on December 1.

At least two US law firms said they were preparing class actions against Credit Suisse following Finma’s investigation.

Since December, Credit Suisse’s stock has tumbled further, hitting a fresh intraday low of SFr2.42 on Friday, the day after the bank was forced to delay the publication of its annual report when the US Securities and Exchange Commission made a last-minute call over cash flow statements dating back to 2019.

The bank described the SEC’s questions as of a technical nature that did not affect its previously reported financial results for 2022.

Since Lehmann took over as chair of the bank just over a year ago following the abrupt departure of his predecessor António Horta-Osório, he has overseen an overhaul of the executive team — including replacing the chief executive — the development of the biggest strategic overhaul in the bank’s 167-year history, and a more than 70 per cent fall in its share price.

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