Tricky moves after a name change
Dropping the First Boston name is the easy part of Credit Suisse's plan to refocus its investment banking strategy, a plan to be officially unveiled this month. It will be harder for the Swiss bank to figure what it wants CSFB to become. Some early indications about where CSFB might place its bets in response to external and internal pressures suggest it might be embarking on another arduous journey.
There's no question that CSFB is in a tough position. On one side are big rivals such as Citigroup and JPMorgan that are willing to win business by employing their massive balance sheets – a game CSFB's Swiss parent will not play. At the same time, CSFB does not have the brand-name cachet that allows other rivals such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to win business without deploying large amounts of capital. CSFB occupies a difficult middle ground in a highly competitive industry.
External forces are not alone in shaping strategy. The firm's Swiss owners have never appeared entirely comfortable with investment banking. And they have become even less so in recent years as the private bank has been the engine of growth and profits and the investment bank the source of headaches.