Emulating rival Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank will be shutting down its equities business as part of a larger restructuring plan. Commerzbank is searching for a partner willing to provide outsourced equity research, sales and trading, allowing it to shut down its own operations.
While unveiling a €2.9 billion ($3.5 billion) loss for 2020, Commerzbank chief executive Manfred Knof announced a plan to shutter the firm’s low-margin equities trading, sales and research function equities as soon as it can find a third-party source for the services. Knof, who headed Deutsche Bank’s private bank prior to joining Commerzbank in January 2021, is copying Deutsche Bank’s decision in 2019 to shutter its equities unit, although Deutsche retained some research staff to support its investment bankers. Commerzbank had sold its equities derivatives business to Société Générale in 2018.
A likely outsourcing partner for Commerzbank is Kepler Cheuvreux, which already supplies cash equities support to six banks: Unicredit, Credit Agricole, Rabobank, Swedbank, Belfius Bank and Macquarie. Commerzbank would be a win for Kepler, extending its reach in Germany.
Commerzbank is the third German bank to exit equities, following MainFirst Bank, which sold its equities unit to Stifel in 2018, and Deutsche Bank’s equities exit in 2019.
By our count, over twenty banks have exited research over the last decade by shutting down their equities unit, by outsourcing to a third party or by restructuring to focus on a specific region. Over a dozen of the banks which have reorganized their equities units are based in Europe, reflecting capital pressures to shed low-margin units and MiFID II’s research unbundling. We suspect Commerzbank will not be the last bank to shutter its equities business, especially if equity markets begin to sour after a stellar 2020.