HARDBOUND

Tale of destruction

David Enrich dives deep into the rise and grand devastation of what was once one of the biggest banks in the world — Deutsche Bank

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Published 2 months ago on Mar 28, 2020 Read

It was a little before one P.M. when a wiry American emerged from the Tube station into a drizzle, the type of dreary January weather that earns London its reputation as a depressing place during the long winter months. The man looked around Sloane Square. Normally, even in this dark season, the block was pretty and bustling with shoppers. This Sunday in early 2014, it was desolate.

Val Broeksmit didn't feel well. He had woken up groggy from the previous night's drug-fueled jam session with his band. Then, on the crowded Underground train on his way to Chelsea, he had been jolted by a surge of negative energy, like a dark spirit had brushed past him. He lit a cigarette and trudged toward the entrance to the Saatchi Gallery, his head down in a futile attempt to stay dry. He was scheduled to have brunch at the gallery's café with his parents. The last time he'd seen them was a month earlier, in December 2013, before they'd set off for the Caribbean and then a vacation in Oman. Val had just turned thirty-eight. While he was a talented musician with thirty-four albums to his name (none, alas, were chart-toppers), he lived off the largesse of his father, Bill, who had spent many years as a senior executive at Deutsche Bank, one of the world's largest financial institutions. Tall, skinny, and scraggly-his friends sometimes told him he resembled a tramp-Val was determined on this Sunday not to get an earful from his mother about looking like a slob. He wore slacks, a blue blazer, and a black woolen cap.

At exactly one o'clock, Val arrived at the arched brick wall that snaked around the Saatchi Gallery. He was notorious in his family for never being on time, but here he was, and his obsessively punctual parents were nowhere to be seen. “Where are you guys?” he texted his mother, Alla. She didn't respond.

Val wandered across the pedestrianized street, perusing a row of boutiques and overpriced shops. He came across the Taschen bookstore, which specialized in coffee-table books about art and culture. For the past couple of years, Val had been collecting rare first editions-the older and more famous the author, the better. He was so into his hobby that he had done volunteer work for an organization that gathered unwanted books from estate sales and distributed them to needy children. Val would sift through the stacks, searching for hidden gems, and pilfer them for his own little library.

The bookstore was mostly empty. Val browsed its shelves until something caught his eye: an enormous volume with a shimmering silver cover, priced at £650 (about $1,000). It was a limited edition collection of Harry Benson's iconic photos of the Beatles, including the one of a pillow fight in a Paris hotel room. The book was signed by the photographer, and its pages were so luxuriously metallic that Val could see his reflection in them. He started to daydream about convincing his parents to buy it for him as a belated birthday gift.

Val's iPhone buzzed, interrupting his reverie. The call was from a blocked number. Val answered it. A woman with a thick accent-Val was pretty sure it was his parents' housekeeper, Belle-was on the line.
"Emergency! Emergency!" she shouted. “Your father! Your father!"

Val asked what she was talking about, but he couldn't get a coherent answer from her. The only thing he could think was that he needed to get to his parents' flat, which was about a mile away in the posh Kensington neighborhood. He put the Beatles book down, raced outside, and hailed a black cab. “Twentyone Evelyn Gardens," he instructed the driver.

The ten-minute drive felt endless. The cab seemed to crawl through London's traffic-choked streets, past stately townhouses and brick apartment blocks and high-end restaurants and organic grocery stores. Bundled locals hurried along the rain-slicked sidewalks, nearly keeping pace with the taxi. Val went through the possible scenes he might encounter when he arrived. Maybe his father was hurt? Maybe there was a big family argument? Or maybe it was just that Bill was locked out of his computer and needed his tech-savvy son's help?

The taxi pulled onto Evelyn Gardens, a wide, quiet street that, instead of having a median, allowed cars to park in the middle as well as on the sides. Now, in addition to the BMWs and Audis and mopeds, an ambulance was stationed at the curb. Val paid the cabby and sprinted across the street.

His parents lived in a flat on the third floor of a white-trimmed redbrick building. Its heavy black door, normally opened only via a buzzer, was ajar. Val galloped up two flights of stairs. The door to his parents' apartment was wide open.
In the middle of the hallway, Bill Broeksmit was lying on his back, his eyes closed. A neck brace tilted his head back at an unnatural angle. A paramedic's plastic tube jutted from his mouth. Val's mother was curled in the fetal position on the dark wooden floor, her head resting on a pillow next to her husband's face. She was wailing. Belle kneeled beside her, stroking her hair.

"What the fuck is this?” Val screamed.

"He killed himself," his mother gasped. “He hung himself with Daisy's leash.”

Two years later, in January 2016, Jacques Brand arrived at Deutsche Bank's American headquarters on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. A former consultant and a longtime investment banker at Lehman Brothers, Brand was the CEO of Deutsche's U.S. businesses, and his mission was to instill some modicum of discipline, ethics, and control on an outfit where recklessness, chaos, and greed had long been the organizing principles. If there was one thing that Brand had learned in his years at Lehman, it was that there was no point in generating lots of revenue if you didn't understand and control the risks you were taking. That wasn't happening at Deutsche. Thus, shortly before taking over back in 2012, he had recruited Bill Broeksmit to the board that oversaw the American operations. Brand (everyone called him Jack) figured that the best way to ensure the business got cleaned up was to inject himself and folks who shared his priorities, like Bill, into more of the day-today activities that previously had been left to the whims of lower-level executives who had powerful financial incentives-otherwise known as annual bonuses-to prioritize short-term profits over long term stability.