Wirecard Chairman Steps Down From Embattled Payments Giant
By Paul J. Davies
Wirecard AG's chairman, who resisted calls for an independent
audit of the under-fire German payments group, quit his role
effective immediately -- a move the company said was aimed at
improving its corporate governance.
Wulf Matthias, chairman of the company since 2008, will be
replaced by Thomas Eichelmann, who joined the board in mid-2019 and
heads its audit committee.
Wirecard announced the change at 11 p.m. local time on Friday
following a board vote. Mr. Matthias will remain on the company's
supervisory board until his terms expires in 2021.
Wirecard, one of Europe's biggest and fastest-growing fintech
companies, last year broke into the DAX 30 index of Germany's top
firms, displacing local lender Commerzbank AG. Its
electronic-payments business processes transactions for retailers
online and in stores and has a history of focusing on higher risk
sectors like travel, gambling and pornography.
"We consider this as a step to improve our corporate
governance," a Wirecard spokeswoman said. "Wulf has reached an age
of 75. Everybody is thankful for his contribution, but now it is
time to organize for a change of generation."
Wirecard has faced a string of questions and allegations from
funds who bet against companies' shares through short selling and
from the media over its accounting practices, including in its
important Asian operations. Wirecard is currently under
investigation by the commercial branch of the Singapore police.
The company has consistently denied any improprieties. Some
large investors have privately pressured the group to improve its
financial reporting and transparency, according to people familiar
with the matter. In October, there were calls for it to commission
an independent audit of the issues raised by media reports and
Mr. Matthias initially dismissed these calls, telling the
Financial Times on Oct. 18 that the work of Wirecard's existing
auditor, EY, was sufficient. However, the following Monday, Oct.
21, Wirecard said KPMG would conduct a special audit to try to draw
a final line under the matters. That special audit is expected to
be completed around the end of the first quarter this year.
Wirecard's rapidly appreciating share price -- at its peak last
September, the stock had more than quadrupled in value over the
previous two years -- along with a string of acquisitions and
limited financial disclosure have helped make it a target for short
Its stock has been on a roller-coaster ride this year. At its
close Friday of EUR110.60, the share price was nearly 43% below its
It appeared to have won the support of one of the world's
leading technology investors back in April 2019, when Wirecard said
a unit of SoftBank Group Inc. was investing $1 billion as part of a
strategic partnership. The Wall Street Journal reported in November
that SoftBank had put no money behind the complex convertible bond
transaction. Rather, the investment was backed by several
executives at Softbank's investment arm and Mubadala, a
sovereign-wealth fund based in Abu Dhabi.
"The SoftBank-related entities involved are consistent with our
understanding and expectations and that was communicated to our
shareholders," a Wirecard spokeswoman said at the time.
The new chairman, Mr. Eichelmann, trained as a banker at
Deutsche Bank, worked for consulting firm Roland Berger and later
became chief financial officer of Deutsche Börse, the German stock
exchange. The 54-year-old has held several other board positions in
recent years and will remain head of the Wirecard board audit
Wirecard declined to expand on the personal reasons behind Mr.
Matthias's decision to quit.
Write to Paul J. Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 11, 2020 14:00 ET (19:00 GMT)
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