Deutsche Bank AG’s embattled DWS Group CEO Asoka Woehrmann resigned hours after a police raid at the asset manager, the culmination of months of controversy surrounding the executive.
Stefan Hoops, head of the German lender’s corporate bank, is to assume the top role at DWS from Friday next week, while his previous role is to be assumed by David Lynne, who leads the corporate bank for Asia-Pacific based in Singapore, Deutsche Bank said in a statement yesterday.
The departure of a former close ally of Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing underscores the rising pressure since former DWS chief sustainability officer Desiree Fixler’s allegations that the company inflated its environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials. The raids add to a rising list of regulatory and legal headaches for Sewing, after law officials swooped into both firms in Frankfurt on Tuesday.
The greenwashing investigations also underscore the growing scrutiny of money managers and their sustainability claims, as demand for ESG investments soars.
Assets tied to ESG issues are expected to surge to more than US$50 trillion by 2025, or about one-third of global assets under management, Bloomberg Intelligence said.
For Woehrmann, the raid was another blow after he faced scrutiny over his use of personal e-mail for business purposes and the role that his relationship with a German businessman played in deals.
Woehrmann took over the DWS job in 2018, soon after the asset manager’s poorly received initial public offering. Investors had yanked billions of euros from its funds and Sewing asked Woehrmann to turn the asset manager around.
“The allegations made against DWS and me over the past months, including personal attacks and threats, however unfounded or undefendable, have left a mark,” Woehrmann wrote in a farewell message to staff. “They have been a burden for the firm, as well as for me — and, most significantly, for those closest to me.”
Woehrmann fired former sustainability officer Fixler in March last year, saying in a memo to staff that her unit had not made enough progress. She sued for unfair dismissal, but lost the case before a Frankfurt labor court in January.
Fixler has said that DWS’ claims that hundreds of billions of its assets under management were “ESG integrated” were misleading because the label did not translate into meaningful action.
DWS has since stopped using the label.
Jim Whittington, head of responsible investment at Dimensional Fund Advisors with about US$660 billion of assets under management, said the ESG industry is struggling in terms of real-world impact and returns.
Any “promise that you can outperform the market by your insight and evaluating ESG risks probably isn’t going to stack up,” he said in an interview.
The DWS case sends “a strong signal that ESG can’t be just empty rhetoric, but should be something deliverable,” said Nanyang Technological University finance professor Jun-koo Kang, who does corporate governance research.
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