Archegos debacle: Credit Suisse finds multiple failings but no illegal conduct

Report attributes losses to fear of alienating a big client, incompetence

Credit Suisse said it would use the Archegos debacle "as a turning point for its overall approach to risk management". PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Credit Suisse said it would use the Archegos debacle "as a turning point for its overall approach to risk management". PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK • Credit Suisse suffered humiliation and shareholder wrath this year when it lost US$5.5 billion (S$7.4 billion) from the collapse of the Archegos Capital Management investment fund.

On Thursday, the bank admitted its own failings were to blame, releasing a report that chronicled the "fundamental failure of management and controls" behind the debacle. Perhaps the only bright spot for Credit Suisse was that the law firm it hired to conduct the autopsy attributed the losses to incompetence and fear of alienating a big client. The investigators concluded that none of the bank employees "engaged in fraudulent or illegal conduct or acted with ill intent".

The report amounted to a case study in everything that can go awry inside an investment bank and lead to financial disaster. At Credit Suisse, the problems included overworked and underqualified staff, miscommunication between departments, inattentive senior managers and a system geared to increase sales rather than monitor risk.

Credit Suisse was hardly the only bank to do business with Archegos, which managed the wealth of one-time star money manager Bill Hwang. But after Archegos collapsed in March, done in by a US$20 billion wager on shares of ViacomCBS that went sour, Credit Suisse was slower than Goldman Sachs and other creditors to liquidate the fund's positions, and it had the biggest losses.

Credit Suisse probably also suffered the biggest hit to its reputation, in part because it was caught up in another disaster at almost the same time. Greensill Capital, which organised funds that Credit Suisse marketed to investors, filed for bankruptcy in London only weeks before Archegos' meltdown. Credit Suisse said on Thursday that it expected to return at least US$5.9 billion to investors in the Greensill funds, which had been valued at US$10 billion.

Credit Suisse said it would use the Archegos debacle "as a turning point for its overall approach to risk management". It said 23 employees would forfeit or be required to pay back US$70 million in bonuses, and that nine in the group would be fired.

"We are determined to learn all the right lessons and further enhance our control functions to ensure that we emerge stronger," Mr Antonio Horta-Osorio, who took over as chairman of Credit Suisse in April, said in a statement.

The blame went beyond individual cases of negligence, according to the report. The bank's zeal to cut costs and increase profit was also a factor, it said.

Starting in 2015, rounds of staff cuts left senior managers at Credit Suisse "wearing so many hats, receiving so many reports and being inundated with so much data that it was difficult for them to digest all of the information and discharge their responsibilities effectively".

Seasoned managers were replaced by junior employees. The team responsible for overseeing Archegos "struggled to handle more work with less resources and less experience", the report said.

Archegos' collapse came as a shock to outsiders, but the risk of doing business with the fund had been apparent for years, according to the report. In 2012, Mr Hwang, the founder, pleaded guilty to a US charge of wire fraud while running another fund, and settled insider trading allegations with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He had also been barred in 2014 from trading in Hong Kong.

In 2015, Credit Suisse employees "shrugged off" Mr Hwang's history after reviewing the risk of doing business with him, the report said. In subsequent years, the bank allowed Archegos to make big bets using mostly borrowed money - moves that generated interest income and fees for Credit Suisse. Last year, though, Archegos began chronically exceeding limits on the amount of risk it was allowed to assume.

Credit Suisse executives ignored or downplayed the breaches and other red flags because they were aware that Archegos was working with other banks. They were afraid of alienating an important client.

"No one at C.S. - not the traders, not the in-business risk managers, not the senior business executives, not the credit risk analysts and not the senior risk officers - appeared to fully appreciate the serious risks that Archegos' portfolio posed to C.S.," the report said. "These risks were not hidden. They were in plain sight."

Archegos remains a burden on Credit Suisse earnings. The bank said on Thursday that net profit in the second quarter fell nearly 80 per cent, to 253 million Swiss francs (S$378 million). It booked an additional loss from Archegos of US$653 million in the quarter, and also absorbed an 18 per cent decline in sales, to 5.1 billion Swiss francs.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2021, with the headline 'Archegos debacle: Credit Suisse finds multiple failings but no illegal conduct'. Subscribe