High-level managers in Deutsche Bank’s private banking division claim in a new lawsuit that their sudden departure from the New York office was triggered by “shady practices” where they allegedly were pressured to invest clients’ assets in the bank’s novel investment products.
The accusations surfaced after Deutsche sued HPM Partners, a competitor, for recruiting away more than a dozen of its private banking division employees last week, including chief investment officer Benjamin Pace III and head of portfolio consulting Lawrence Weissman, in what it called a “clearly choreographed commercial assault.”
The bank is seeking injunctive relief against HPM, Pace, Weissman and several other departed senior managers in its private banking unit. It seeks a Manhattan Commercial Division judge to compel the parties to abide by notice and non-solicitation agreements pending resolution of an arbitration proceeding before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA.
The restrictive covenants contain a 90-day prior written notice of departure and 120-day non-solicitation period by competitors following leave of employment. Pace—a two-decade Deutsche veteran—and Weissman turned in letters of resignation May 16, which took immediate effect; the others soon followed suit to the same location.
In their own lawsuit seeking injunctive relief, the men contend that Deutsche forfeited its right to enforce these restrictions by pressuring them to engage in “deceptive practices” that would have violated their fiduciary obligations to high net worth clients—retired investors whose assets are valued in the billions of dollars.
Their petition states, for instance, that the chief executive officer of Deutsche’s private bank unit and its global head of alternative products used the wealth management division as “a distribution outlet” to push complicated proprietary investment products such as hedge funds rather than stocks and bonds “at the expense of the customers’ own investment goals and needs.”
Such clients do not want to invest “in the type of complicated alternative products pushed by DB,” the petition says.
One of these efforts allegedly involved a new product established with $200 million of Deutsche’s own seed funding. Pace and Weissman allege that the bank’s plan was to “recoup” the money by selling the product to existing customers.
“DB pushed Pace to recommend that the fund be included in one of the bank’s investment models in order to generate more sales for the bank. Pace refused,” says the complaint.
Such pressure began several years ago and gradually increased in intensity, the complaint states. The petitioners claim they were “placed in an untenable position of potentially breaching their fiduciary obligations to their customers or resigning.”
In a statement, Deutsche said it rejects the claims in Pace’s complaint and that it was its own fiduciary duty to clients placed at risk.
“The actions taken by Ben Pace and his team, if left unabated, could interfere with Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management’s ability to carry out fiduciary duties for certain clients,” spokeswoman Catherine Wooters said.
On Thursday afternoon, the parties appeared before Justice Marcy Friedman on the issue of emergency injunctive relief.
Counsel to Deutsche Bank are John Siegal and Sammi Malek, partners at BakerHostetler.
HPM is represented by Kevin Reed, partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
Pace and Weissman are represented by labor law and employment law firm Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard. Reached late Wednesday, Valdi Licul, a partner at the firm, declined to comment on the cases.
In Sept. 2012, Deutsche and HPM reached a settlement regarding similar allegations arising from a separate set of circumstances.