Asoka Wöhrmann, the CEO of DWS — Germany’s top asset manager majority-owned by Deutsche Bank — resigned Wednesday, a day after police raided his company’s Frankfurt offices over allegations of greenwashing.
“The allegations made against DWS and me over the past months, including personal attacks and threats, however unfounded or undefendable, have left a mark,” Wöhrmann wrote in a message to staff seen by Bloomberg. “They have been a burden for the firm, as well as for me and, most significantly, for those closest to me. So it is with an extremely heavy heart that I have agreed with the firm to resign.”
Wöhrmann will be replaced June 10 — the day after DWS’s annual shareholders’ meeting — by Stefan Hoops, who has served as head of Deutsche’s corporate bank. David Lynne, who leads Deutsche’s Asia-Pacific corporate business, will step into Hoops’ role atop the corporate bank.
Tuesday’s raid — involving roughly 50 police, officials from the German financial regulator BaFin and public prosecutors — follows allegations that DWS exaggerated its environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.
A DWS spokesperson Tuesday told The Wall Street Journal the company had “continuously cooperated fully with all relevant regulators and authorities on this matter and will continue to do so.”
DWS’s former chief sustainability officer, Desiree Fixler, said the company falsely claimed in its 2020 annual report that €459 billion — more than half of the company’s asset total — was “ESG integrated.”
The company has denied wrongdoing, but has changed its criteria such that just €115 billion in assets were given the “ESG” label in the company’s 2021 annual report, published this March, the Financial Times reported.
Wöhrmann fired Fixler in March 2021, telling staff in a memo that her unit hadn’t made enough progress, according to Bloomberg. Fixler sued for unfair dismissal but lost the case in January.
BaFin isn’t the only regulator to probe the greenwashing allegations against DWS. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched a similar investigation in August.
The SEC has intensified its focus on ESG criteria of late. The regulator voted last week to issue two proposals: one to require funds that label themselves “ESG,” “sustainable” or “low-carbon,” for example, to invest at least 80% of their holdings in certain industries or investment types, and another requiring more detailed disclosures. The SEC also imposed a first-of-its-kind $1.5 million penalty against a BNY Mellon subsidiary last week for misstating how it applied ESG criteria to its mutual funds.
In a statement seen by the Financial Times, Wöhrmann said he was leaving “to clear the way for a fresh start.”
The greenwashing probe is not the only cloud under which Wöhrmann found himself. He has also been criticized for using his personal email address for business purposes. Deutsche also was investigating a €160,000 payment a client made to Wöhrmann when he worked as head of private-client business, the Financial Times reported in January. Wöhrmann said the transaction was part of a failed attempt to buy a Porsche.
Christian Sewing, Deutsche Bank’s CEO, thanked Wöhrmann on Wednesday for his “impressive work and performance.”
Karl von Rohr, DWS’s chair, seconded that praise. “Under his leadership, DWS has expanded its market position and performed well in a recently challenging environment,” von Rohr said of Wöhrmann.
Wöhrmann has led DWS since 2018, soon after an initial public offering that spurred investors to pull billions of euros from its funds. Sewing asked Wöhrmann, who was then chief of the bank’s German retail presence, to turn the asset manager around.
More recently, DWS lost €1 billion in market capitalization in a day last year after investigations by U.S. authorities were made public, yet Wöhrmann saw a 15% compensation bump to €6.9 million, the Financial Times reported.
Hoops, Wöhrmann’s replacement, is also a longtime Deutsche exec, spending much of his career in the bank’s trading unit before taking over the German lender’s transaction banking business in 2019.