DWS chief in line for millions of euros in severance pay

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The outgoing chief executive of embattled asset manager DWS could still receive millions of euros in severance pay, despite resigning following investigations into “greenwashing” by US and German authorities.

DWS chair Karl von Rohr told shareholders at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Thursday that details of Asoka Wöhrmann’s remuneration were still being negotiated, and that the final sum could depend on the outcome of the probes into the Deutsche Bank-owned business.

Two people close to the company confirmed that Wöhrmann, who DWS last week said had “decided to resign”, had in fact left by mutual agreement, leaving him entitled to severance payments under the early termination clause of executive contracts at DWS.

Wöhrmann, whose total remuneration increased by 15 per cent to €6.9mn last year, was appointed until the end of October 2024.

According to DWS’s annual report, executive severance pay is usually “two annual compensation amounts”, as recommended by the German governance code, meaning Wöhrmann could be entitled to almost €14mn

However, von Rohr stressed that DWS could defer compensation payments and as such they would be “subject to clawback [clauses]”.

Deutsche and DWS declined to comment.

Von Rohr’s comments came after Wöhrmann, making his first public appearance since agreeing to step down last week following a police raid on DWS’s Frankfurt offices, defended the company’s sustainable investment strategy at the annual shareholder meeting.

“DWS had clearly positioned itself to make ESG a core part of its strategy. We never made a secret of the fact that it would take effort. Nor did we ever say that we had already reached our goal,” he said.

He went on to assert that the nearly 25 per cent slump in DWS’s share price in the months since whistleblower Desiree Fixler alleged that the company’s criteria for labelling ESG investments was flawed, was “not justified”.

“The topic of sustainability is far too significant and far too important for us to be OK with it being instrumentalised by individuals for personal gain,” Wöhrmann said.

Wöhrmann, who handed over the reins to Deutsche Bank’s Stefan Hoops at the end of Thursday’s AGM, has also been criticised for the use of a personal email address to conduct business in a former role, and was scrutinised for a €160,000 payment made to him by a client, which he explained as a failed attempt to purchase a Porsche car.

People close to the company told the Financial Times that plans to replace the executive had been in train for some time, and were accelerated after the public raid last week, during which prosecutors gathered physical and digital evidence.

However von Rohr praised Wöhrmann’s record at DWS, saying he had “successfully established the firm as a leading European asset manager with global reach”.

Following Fixler’s complaint, DWS changed its ESG criteria. In its 2021 annual report, published in March 2022, DWS reported only €115bn in “ESG assets” for 2021 — 75 per cent less than a year earlier when it stated that €459bn in assets were “ESG integrated”.

In his speech at the annual meeting, Wöhrmann admitted that the “definition of sustainable energy today is more complex and even more multi-layered than it was just a few months ago”.

He added: “Especially in the coming quarters, these issues are likely to be reflected in the performance of ESG products.”

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