According to a ranking compiled by Les Echos, among the seventeen largest European banks, Deutsche Bank has the largest number of employees paid more than €1 million per year - exactly 643 - ahead of Barclays (542) and HSBC (399), despite being the largest bank in the EU by balance sheet.
This figure is truly scandalous, because the leading German bank does not have an exceptional performance - far from it. It certainly had a profitable 2018 year, but just barely (€267 million), and which came after three years of loss. Its biggest driver, investment banking, saw its pre-tax profits rise from €1.705 million to €530 million between 2016 and 2018, and in the first quarter of 2019, the division was in deficit. More worryingly, Deutsche Bank is the most exposed bank to derivatives in the world, with an estimated $64 trillion, 16 times Germany's GDP... Nothing to be proud of. Investors are not mistaken; moreover, its share price is massacred: -90% since its highest level reached in May 2007.
Another worrying factor is that the bank is involved in one of the biggest money laundering scandals in history, that of the Danish bank Danske Bank, for a record amount of €180 billion. The fraud was channeled through its subsidiary in Estonia, but Deutsche Bank managed 80% of the flows from the Danish bank for its customers in Russia... In this case, the banking regulator - the European Banking Authority (EBA) - reportedly buried an investigation into the scandal. At the time, the Frenchwoman Danielle Nouy was the head of the institution (her mandate ran from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2018), but she is not speaking out, at least for the time being.
In this context, the fact that Deutsche Bank is at the top of the list for the number of millionaire employees is similar to a predation company. There is probably a sense of urgency, the last hurrah before the collapse, "Take the Money and Run", the last glass of champagne on the sinking Titanic....
This figure of 643 millionaires can be explained. We are indeed at the crossroads of two perversions of capitalism, difficult to avoid when the government has acquired such an important size as it is the case in our contemporary societies:
- Too big to fail, which makes bankruptcy unthinkable through the cataclysm it would cause, mandatory government support, where the sanction of bankruptcy disappears and pushes people to take even more risks.
- Crony capitalism, i.e. the close links between the political class and big business, the former protecting the latter in exchange for small services (hiring members of the circle of power, or suitcases of bills - see the Danske Bank scandal above).
"The rats leave the ship," they say, when the storm is coming, but in the banks it is rather the officers who leave first, and take the silverware with them. This information is really worrying about Deutsche Bank's sustainability.
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Philippe Herlin Finance Researcher / Doctor in Economics
Philippe Herlin is a researcher in finance and a doctor in economics of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris. A proponent of extreme-risk thinkers like Benoît Mandelbrot and Nassim Taleb, and of the Austrian School of Economics, he will be bringing his own views on the actual crisis, the Eurozone, the public debts and the banking system. Having written a book on gold that has become a reference (L’or, un placement d’avenir, Eyrolles 2012), he wishes to see gold play a growing role in our economies, all the way to its full re-monetization.