They were scenes reminiscent of the collapse of Lehman Brothers more than a decade ago.

Hundreds of shell-shocked bankers shuffled out of offices around the world, many clutching boxes and plastic bags containing their personal effects, some crying and others putting on a brave face for photographers.

Just hours earlier, these downtrodden financiers had been told they no longer had jobs at Deutsche Bank – part of a brutal cull of over 18,000 workers. 

Lay offs: Deutsche Bank has been forced to dismiss thousands of staff after more than a decade of decline which has seen its share price fall 95 per cent

Lay offs: Deutsche Bank has been forced to dismiss thousands of staff after more than a decade of decline which has seen its share price fall 95 per cent 

But despite the scale of the cutbacks, the only real surprise is that they took so long to happen.

For Deutsche, this drastic effort to ditch global investment banking and return to its roots as a provincial German lender is a final roll of the dice after years of decline.

In the run up to the 2008 financial crisis, the firm was at the forefront of Continental banks determined to rival Wall Street on the international stage. 

It was an era of dramatic expansion – in the US, Asia, Russia and beyond – and the rewards were so large that, on bonus day, car transporters used to pull up outside the firm’s City offices carrying Aston Martins for top staff.

At home in Germany, Deutsche was feted as a national champion and had friends in the highest circles.

Chancellor Angela Merkel even hosted Deutsche’s then-boss Josef Ackermann for his 60th birthday at the Berlin Chancery in 2008. 

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But this period of conquest came to a juddering halt when the sub-prime mortgage bubble burst in America and markets tanked around the world.

Deutsche’s shares have since plunged more than 94 per cent amid massive losses and it has been found guilty of some of the worst behaviour of any large lender, from money laundering in Moscow to rigging the global markets, and has shelled out billions of pounds in fines.

This week the bank has been dragged into investigations into corruption at Malaysian fund 1MDB and the US financier charged with running a sex ring of underage girls, Jeffrey Epstein.

Cull: One of the 18,000 Deutsche staff to lose their jobs leaves the bank's London office with his possessions in a box

Cull: One of the 18,000 Deutsche staff to lose their jobs leaves the bank’s London office with his possessions in a box 

The bank’s switch to less risky – albeit less glamorous – business activities is an attempt to draw a line under all of this.

It will abandon its entire share trading operation, which brought in £1.8billion last year, and shrink drastically in every key market.

But many critics say the bank has been too slow to learn the lessons of the financial crisis and has leant on its ‘too big to fail’ status in Germany, which has long guaranteed political protection. 

Chief executives in recent years have all failed to turn fortunes around. Promised cuts have failed to deliver savings as Deutsche expanded at the same time through takeovers.

Meanwhile, the likes of Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and Barclays have been through brutal restructuring drives lasting years, and are now leaner and more able to make a profit. 

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David Buik, a veteran analyst at London-based Core Spreads, said: ‘The fact is, Deutsche’s leaders, for many years, were completely and utterly indecisive about where they were heading.

‘They did not take their medicine. And now Germany may be headed for more economic troubles, which would make things even more difficult.’

The cuts were unveiled on Sunday by boss Christian Sewing, who hails from Deutsche’s more prosaic retail banking arm. 

He replaced John Cryan, a British investment banker who was ousted last year. Sewing has staked his reputation on making Deutsche less dangerous, less exciting and more profitable.

‘I personally greatly regret the impact this will have on some of you,’ the 49-year-old told staff.

‘In the long-term interests of our bank, however, we have no choice other than to approach this transformation decisively.’

Although the email was sent on Sunday, many workers – from London, New York, Sydney and Hong Kong – only learned they faced the axe when they arrived at work on Monday. 

Grim-faced employees reported a ‘hospital waiting room’ atmosphere as they waited to be called into meetings to face the music. 

Summoned one by one, they were told to clear their desks amid rumours that office passes would stop working at 11am.

Afterwards, around 50 of those based in the City were spotted in a nearby Balls Brothers pub. 

While this was happening, in what might charitably be called unfortunate timing, managing directors in Deutsche’s London headquarters were being fitted out for suits costing at least £1,200.

Sewing has since said that he personally scolded the two members of staff who has suits fitted, saying the behaviour was ‘in no way consistent with our values’.

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Deutsche is shrinking its bond and rates trading business and setting up a ‘bad bank’, called the Capital Release Unit, which will allow it to hive off £66billion of toxic assets, echoing a strategy used by RBS after the Government bailed it out.

The lender will focus on bread-and-butter services such as consumer banking, business banking and asset management. 

Sewing said: ‘What we have announced is nothing less than a fundamental rebuilding of Deutsche Bank through which we are ushering in a new era for our bank.’

They are bold words. But over a decade after the collapse of Lehman ushered in a new world for banking, is it all too late?

 



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