Credit Suisse needed someone to lead a cleanup job, and António Horta-Osório had impeccable credentials for troubled banks. During Spanish bank Santander’s financial crisis, he led the takeover of Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley as they were on the verge of collapse, then helped pull Lloyds Bank out of the quagmire after its bailout by the government.
He was not known to object to this reputation for shining armor, displaying a cartoon in his office showing a knight on horseback rescuing two bank damsels in distress.
Yet his latest adventure came to a sudden end, after an internal Credit Suisse investigation revealed breaches of Covid regulations. They included a recognized violation of Swiss isolation rules. It also saw Novak Djokovic win the men’s Wimbledon final when he should have been in quarantine according to UK laws. Horta-Osório resigned over the weekend after the findings were clarified to him.
Horta-Osório was born in Lisbon in January 1964, attending a Jesuit school and having a passion for tennis, before studying management and business administration at the Portuguese capital’s Universidade Católica Portuguesa.
He began his banking career in 1987 at Citibank Portugal, where he became Head of Capital Markets in 1991, while completing an MBA at the prestigious Insead in France the same year. From there, he joined the American investment bank Goldman Sachs, before the Spanish Santander took him on in 1993 as managing director of a Portuguese subsidiary.
In 2006, he moved to the UK to run Abbey National, the former construction company bought by Santander two years earlier. For four years at the helm, he steered the bank through acquisitions that built a formidable high-street presence and rebranding, not to mention the financial crisis.
In June 2009 his reputation was such that he was appointed Non-Executive Director of the Court of the Bank of England, but he quickly abandoned this role when former Chancellor George Osborne selected him to lead Lloyds Banking Group .
Over nearly a decade, Horta-Osório led Britain’s biggest high street bank from near collapse in 2011 to exit state ownership in 2017, and through a great series of technology investments in response to the threat of digital startups, but also cut hundreds of branches and tens of thousands of jobs. He also received £60million in wages.
He oversaw Lloyds’ unprecedented £22billion in compensation payments to people mis-sold by payment protection insurance.
Horta-Osório’s affection for the UK became evident when he became a British citizen, a move which made him eligible for knighthood (although he also sampled the other side of being a British public figure when a Sun newspaper front page splashed a case in 2016 with the headline “Lloyds bonk”).
The royal honor was awarded for services to ‘financial services, mental health and culture’, reflecting his work as chairman of the Wallace Collection of Art and Antiquities as well as his groundbreaking openness to the mental health struggles in an industry known for a sometimes punitively macho culture.
At Credit Suisse, he was brought on to turn the page on a series of governance scandals, overseeing the launch of a new strategy in November. His abrupt departure means he is unlikely to leave much of a mark on the bank.