Elite Condescension

Deutsche Bank ran full-page ads today in Germany’s largest newspapers. If the statement in English posted on its site the day prior is the same text, the gesture makes two things perfectly clear:

The bank got really bad PR advice, and its leadership was arrogant enough to follow it.

Deutsche Bank is in crisis mode these days, in large part because it helped kickoff the global financial meltdown in the mid-2000s, enabled Russian oligarchs to launder $10 billion, and barely passed the latest capital reserves “stress tests” (skating by aided with special concessions from the EU).

It owes the US Justice Department US$14 billion in fines, is struggling to manage a 100,000-person headcount and 500+ retail branches in an era of digital banking, and posted a US$2 billion loss in 4Q16.

Earlier last year, the IMF anointed the bank as “the most important net contributor to systemic risks in the global financial system.”

So what does its sorry language tell us?

First, it’s an apology without taking responsibility. The text is filled with references to “incidents,” “conduct,” and “serious errors,” but lacks subject pronouns or action verbs. Bad things just happened, as if the “we” of the bank was somehow separate from the decisions, if not wholly surprised by them.

Second, when it does assign blame, it’s on “a relatively small number of individuals” who “jeopardized Deutsche Bank’s most valuable asset: its reputation.”

Only the bank doesn’t have a reputation problem (see paragraphs 3-5 above), it has an operational reality problem…lots of them, actually. Positioning its woes as ones of public perception is in keeping with avoiding taking responsibility for the actions that have caused those perceptions to change.

Third, it gives no confidence that it has (or will) do anything to fix it

Read the entire essay at Linkedin