The era of the superstar bank CEO is over in Europe
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The era of the superstar bank CEO is over in Europe

Less charismatic chief executives will serve Europe’s banks well in the 2020s – unless it simply means that more power will reside with their chairmen.

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The various changes in leadership of European banks in the past few months have all involved the exit of high-profile chief executives who had turned around their institutions.

The replacement CEOs are generally less well-known, often insiders, less charismatic and certainly less powerful. And the general direction of travel appears, if anything, to be the opposite when it comes to bank chairmen.

This trend fits with the sector’s wider evolution. The very future of many European banks was in question a decade ago, so CEOs naturally gained more power. It is a CEO’s job to be on top of the operational and financial detail.

CEOs this past decade have been charismatic – and powerful. Photo: iStock

Now, balance sheets are stronger, but profitability is structurally lower. The short term looks safer, but the long term is less assured.

M&A is coming to the fore again, and that’s something in which chairmen will inevitably have more of a role, compared to the nitty-gritty of systems integration and balance-sheet repair. Big mergers require board and even government buy-in.

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António Horta-Osório

The attendant shift in personality and influence away from the top executive job, and towards the chairman, is most obvious in António Horta-Osório’s surprise decision not to take up another CEO role after his departure from Lloyds Banking Group.

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