Wirecard Chairman Steps Down -- Update
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
succeeded 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 term expires in 2021.
Lawyers for a group of retail shareholders still plan to issue a
call for support on Monday for an extraordinary meeting and push
for a more robust review of Wirecard's financial reporting.
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 such as 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 that 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, Ernst & Young GmbH, 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 this
year's first quarter.
KPMG's review will report to Wirecard's board. Wirecard has said
a report of the review will be published, subject to
data-protection rules, but that isn't enough for some investors.
Local German retail shareholders who own about 2.5% of the company
want a special audit that would report directly to investors and
would be carried out by an independent German auditor who isn't
part of a big accounting firm.
The lawyer for the shareholders, Wolfgang Schirp of Schirp &
Partner in Berlin, plans to issue a draft motion on Monday for an
extraordinary shareholder meeting and call for further support.
They need 5% of Wirecard shares to force an extraordinary
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 email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 12, 2020 13:47 ET (18:47 GMT)
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