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Communication crisis: How leadership failure ruined Credit Suisse

Shoot the messenger!

It seems to be that easy. Well, that's just crazy...

Journalist Caroline de Gruyter recently wrote an essay, published on 14 April last in the Dutch daily NRC, on the demise of Swiss bank Credit Suisse.

Her conclusion is that the collapse of the bank can be traced back to a single tweet.

Wrong conclusion. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Poor management is to blame for this debacle.

Leaders that either don't communicate or fail to do so properly.

These leaders have been selected and appointed by even more incompetent individuals, and this has nothing to do with Twitter or a tweet.

Don’t shoot the messenger!

"How successive misappointments of CEOs and poor communication skills by the latter can topple a major bank," ought to have been the headline above the article.

Indeed, it has been widely known for years that Credit Suisse was facing major, fundamental issues. Issues which were primarily of its own making.

However, say insiders and analysts, things had actually been improving in the last year and a half: sound C-level leaders, an improved financial situation, no more scandals. Be that as it may, not too many others were screaming this opinion from the rooftops.

When asked who - or what - was responsible for Credit Suisse's collapse, Credit Suisse chairman Axel Lehmann also referred to "speculations" in October. Even managing to do so with a straight face... It beggars belief that he had the nerve to say such a thing!

All those scandals, those involved say, were a thing of the past. They needn't have brought the bank down. Provided they had been better communicated in time. And if customers, for instance, had been listened to. After all, what these scandals did bring down, however, was public trust. More than ever, in an age of social media and digital banking, trust can be shattered in an instant.

Since 2007, a long line of executives with failing, immense egos such as Brady Dougan, Tidiane Thiam and António Horta-Osório have together brought this bank to its knees. Not a tweet.

"Corporate leaders don't realise how much impact they have these days," says a former employee of the bank. This is not only true for all the flamboyant executives Credit Suisse has worn through over the past two decades. It also goes for Ulrich Körner, who, in the summer of 2022, took office to clean up the mess after all those scandals.

By the time he assured the world that Credit Suisse had enough liquidity and a solid capital buffer, the bank had already partly bled dry. With clients and shareholders in panic.

They where expecting empathy and reflection, not just standard brief and boring quarterly reports and results. And an explanation too.

This explanation was only a month in coming. And only then as part of a restructuring plan, based on thoroughly boring data and spreadsheets.

In a hard-hitting piece on Körner's silence and rigidity, the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung recently wrote that both he and Axel Lehmann - also a data nerd and minimal communicator - had overlooked one factor. "A factor that cannot be measured and that ultimately has brought Credit Suisse to its knees: people's trust.”

When recently asked on Swiss TV why he hadn't immediately responded to that infamous Australian tweet, Körner had this to say, "But we HAVE responded."

Not on social media, the journalist objected.

"No," Körner replied, "we didn't have the expertise for that."

Thank you. I rest my case.

One of the three pillars of effective leadership, especially in the role of a CEO, is communication skills.

Feel free to share your views on finding and selecting leaders who DO communicate inspiringly and effectively. Or on developing your own communication skills.

In order to avoid train wrecks like the one experienced by Credit Suisse's stakeholders!

Warm regards,



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