lundi, novembre 24, 2008

Crise du crédit: Citigroup et la gouvernance d'entreprise

C'est au tour de Citigroup maintenant... La banque profitera de l'appui des autorités fédérales américaines à hauteur de 306G$. Celle qui avait été envisagée pour sauver Wachovia plus tôt en septembre s'avérait donc tout aussi vulnérable. Au-delà de ce sauvetage, le cas de Citigroup soulève - et soulèvera? - des questions de gouvernance intéressante.

La première était identifiée par l'article du Wall Street Journal du 13 novembre intitulé Citi Directors Mull Replacing Chairman et concerne le rôle du président du conseil. Critiqué par les administrateurs, Sir Win faisait l'objet de pressions pour qu'il démissionne. Une fronde inhabituelle pour un président n'agissant pas à titre de chef de la direction. Au centre des critiques, une surveillance inadéquate du chef de la direction et surtout, l'absence de réceptivité du président du conseil à cet égard:
The possible replacement of Sir Win comes as the New York company's board is adopting an increasingly assertive stance toward overseeing Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit and his tightknit team of executives. Those executives took power last December after Citigroup's previous CEO, Charles Prince, stepped down amid mounting losses. Some directors have grown concerned that Sir Win, who is based in London, hasn't been exercising adequate oversight.
Over the summer, several directors complained to Mr. Pandit that he hadn't adequately kept them in the loop about his plans. In recent months, the board has been holding meetings twice a month and trying to be more assertive about supervising management decisions.
Compte tenu de cette insatisfaction, l'administrateur indépendant principal avait d'ailleurs pris les choses en main:
Mr. Parsons, Citigroup's lead outside director, recently has grown more heavily involved in monitoring Citigroup's internal operations, the people said. He has been summoning top executives throughout the company to gauge their opinions on the company's operations, and some have been complaining to Mr. Parsons, one person said. He's been meeting or talking by phone with executives several times a week, then briefing his fellow directors on the conversations, another person said.
Ironiquement, c'est cette défaillance dans la surveillance qui vient maintenant hanter les administrateurs de Citigroup et qui était notée par un excellent article du New York Times du 23 novembre dernier intitulé The Reckoning - Citigroup Saw No Red Flags Even as It Made Bolder Bets. Ces passages sont éloquents:
In September 2007, with Wall Street confronting a crisis caused by too many souring mortgages, Citigroup executives gathered in a wood-paneled library to assess their own well-being.

There, Citigroup’s chief executive, Charles O. Prince III, learned for the first time that the bank owned about $43 billion in mortgage-related assets. He asked Thomas G. Maheras, who oversaw trading at the bank, whether everything was O.K.

Mr. Maheras told his boss that no big losses were looming, according to people briefed on the meeting who would speak only on the condition that they not be named.

For months, Mr. Maheras’s reassurances to others at Citigroup had quieted internal concerns about the bank’s vulnerabilities. But this time, a risk-management team was dispatched to more rigorously examine Citigroup’s huge mortgage-related holdings. They were too late, however: within several weeks, Citigroup would announce billions of dollars in losses.
Normally, a big bank would never allow the word of just one executive to carry so much weight. Instead, it would have its risk managers aggressively look over any shoulder and guard against trading or lending excesses.
Ces passages mettent en relief la deuxième question qui sera centrale comme enjeu de gouvernance au cours des prochains mois: quel rôle pour le conseil dans la supervision des risques?

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