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BANKING

Obituary: Anshu Jain, 1963-2022

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Photo: Cantor Fitzgerald

Cricket obsessives are easy to spot. Get them on the subject of the sport, and within a few minutes they will have displayed the tell-tale sign: the instinctive push of the forearm, extending from the elbow, hand angled back – the classic mimicking of a batman’s technique. And from his desk at Deutsche Bank, Anshu Jain needed little excuse to show you his immaculate forward defensive.

It was an odd choice of shot, perhaps, for a man who came to epitomize for many the bullish pre-crisis days of investment banking. As captain of the bank’s cricket team, he was far from defensive. As captain of Deutsche’s trading operations, then its investment bank, and later the entire firm, he was often aggressive.

Some thought him rash, even reckless – but what did they know?

Jain would show the competition just what a force Deutsche Bank had become. But the music had stopped, even if he was still hearing it.

After all, look at what he had done, and how far he had come! After a stint as a lowly derivatives analyst at Kidder, Peabody, he moved to Merrill Lynch to build a global hedge fund coverage group. There he would meet his great mentor, Edson Mitchell, who would in 1995 lure him to Deutsche.

It was an invigorating time for an ambitious banker. Deutsche Bank had already made steps to broaden its franchise through the acquisition of Morgan Grenfell in 1990, when Hilmar Kopper was at the helm. But under later bank chiefs Rolf-Ernst Breuer and then Josef Ackermann, investment banking executives such as Jain were given free rein to build a genuine European competitor to the Wall Street firms. The acquisition of Bankers Trust in 1998 brought the kind of injection of derivatives and trading DNA that would be needed to make that happen.

By the mid-2000s, the businesses that Jain was running spanned capital markets sales and credit derivatives. Ackermann picked him to run the corporate and investment bank alongside Michael Cohrs, and by the time the global financial crisis reached its peak in 2008, Jain had built the firm into an undisputed trading powerhouse.

Grappling with change

Finding smart ways to push risk far out into the future is what clever derivatives bankers do. Jain and his teams at Deutsche Bank were no different. But the financial crisis threw that approach into question, not just at Deutsche but across the whole industry. Suddenly that future was becoming an all-too-immediate present.

But Jain didn’t see it that way. While others among his cohorts jumped ship as the crisis loomed, he saw opportunities to keep building. He would show the competition just what a force Deutsche Bank had become. But the music had stopped, even if he was still hearing it.

Taking over as co-CEO of the bank alongside Jürgen Fitschen in 2012 – becoming the first non-European to hold that position – Jain was faced with the challenge of responding to rapidly shifting views of how banks should operate. Hard-charging, ruthless and competitive par excellence – he was unmistakeably a trader at heart, however often he was later required to acknowledge the changes to his role, and to his industry.

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Photo: Reuters

It was almost exactly 10 years ago, when he was only 60 days into his co-CEO job, that Jain found himself presenting second-quarter results that bore what would come to be familiar Deutsche Bank hallmarks: profits down, but a pledge to tackle costs, capital and culture.

“The time for vague promises of cultural change in our industry is long gone,” he told analysts that day. Critics doubted that he ever believed it, but he was far too intelligent not to have done. Whether he would ever be able to effect the changes that regulators and shareholders wanted was the more pertinent question, given that those changes would frequently impact what he held so dear in the business model.

To his colleagues tasked with managing the bank’s risk, he would argue that he had world-class businesspeople running his divisions. They would counter that what he had were world-class revenue generators, but that a business was more than a revenue line.

The new orthodoxy of a heavily regulated industry that would sit on a much-deeper capital base and would have to learn to do without the leverage it had once enjoyed sat uncomfortably with what Jain had spent so long building. Through those years the bank also had to endure investigations and fines into past conduct. A firm that had for so long been respected for its ability to manage financial risk was frequently undone by its historic failure to rein in the non-financial kind.

After Jain’s departure in 2015, it would fall to other chief executives to grapple with his legacy. While the bank has held onto its fixed-income engine, it is hard to see its pivot to a more staid corporate bank as anything other than a reversal of Jain’s ambitions. With its exit from equities in 2019, and the still small footprint of its advisory business, the bank’s days of looking to compete with Wall Street look long gone.

Intimidating, inspiring

Many found Jain intimidating, many found him inspiring. He spoke as he dressed, with precision. But he delighted in going beyond the trite response and shied away from simplification of complex issues – his family has cited his belief in speaking “at the margin”.

Not always given to the social niceties that some senior traders like to adopt with underlings when striding across the floor, his tolerance for unproductive chat was low, the eyes narrowing further and the lips pursing more tightly with every minute of his time wasted. He didn’t let dissent trouble him much: he would ask for others’ opinions but was quick to move on from them.

While he was at Deutsche, Deutsche was everything. Why in the world would anyone want to work anywhere else, do anything else? It wasn’t simply that he was angry that employees or even clients would choose to go elsewhere, it was that he just couldn’t understand why they would want to. More often than not he would tell them exactly how they might fail.

But for all those who found him harsh or brusque, there were many that saw another man, one that took care to mentor junior staff and counsel senior peers, one that was appreciative of work done well, one that led by example. Those who knew him best away from work saw someone mischievous, playful and affectionate.

Diagnosed with duodenal cancer in January 2017, he was to live – against the odds – for another five years. That he did so was partly down to sheer force of will, according to his family.

His doctors had given him one year – but what did they know?

Instead, he threw himself into working with Cantor Fitzgerald founder Howard Lutnick, serving as president of the firm and helping to expand its trading operations.

Away from banking he had his life-long passions – for photography, conservation, family. And he always had his cricket. He even acknowledged the short, frantic form of the game, owning – for a while, in the late noughties – a stake in the Mumbai Indians team that played in the T20 Indian Premier League.

But it was test cricket that was always the real deal. Watching it from the Deutsche Bank box at Lord’s was great, but he revelled in the ability of a satellite TV box to record all five days of a match. Getting home from the bank he could sit, remote in hand, watching the game run in fast-forward or letting a moment of elegance play out in real-time – absorbing it all, on his own terms.

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