Shareholder activists have European banks in their sights
US hedge funds have cleared the way for more activist-style investing in European financial institutions. Now some home-grown activist funds are targeting banks too. They will need to adapt their tactics, but underperforming bank chief executives have another reason to be worried.
Emmanuel Faber’s exit as chief executive and chairman of French food company Danone in March was a landmark victory for shareholder activism in Europe. It proved that even a national champion, in the continent’s most notoriously protective state – and a company that had previously resisted activists – was now fair game.
Could the banks be next?
European banks make obvious targets for activists as their valuations are low and there is a clear need to restructure. Management, boards, trade unions, regulators and politicians all have interests and views that can stand in the way of a more returns-orientated transformation. As at Danone under Faber, bank executives are under pressure to do more to honour their commitment to shareholder returns, as well as to other stakeholders.
Activist discussions start and often remain private.