Mizuho Financial Group Inc. was hit by another system glitch, even as it prepared to appoint an insider as its next chief executive officer to steer Japan’s third-largest banking group back from a series of technical problems.
Core lending unit Mizuho Bank Ltd. said on Tuesday that it was having problems with its corporate internet banking system. While the glitch was later resolved, it came after a series of system disruptions in the past year which have prompted rebukes from regulators and forced current CEO Tatsufumi Sakai to announce in November that he would step down.
The bank is set to name career executive Masahiro Kihara as his successor at a board meeting on Monday, and he is due to take office on April 1, according to people with knowledge of the plans. They asked not to be identified as the matter wasn’t yet public.
Yasuhiro Sasaki, a spokesman for Mizuho, said no decision had yet been made.
The next CEO’s “immediate challenge is to take all the needed steps to start recovering the confidence of regulators and the public, that Mizuho won’t have more systems troubles in the future, after so many failures in the past,” said Michael Makdad, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Tokyo.
Highlighting the challenges for Kihara, Tuesday’s disruption triggered a new reprimand from the government.
“It’s extremely regrettable to have systems trouble,” Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki told reporters. “Banks are key social infrastructure.” The bank said the outage has been resolved.
Kihara, 56, is a senior executive officer and head of the global products unit, which handles investment banking businesses such as syndicated loans, bond issues and mergers advice. A career insider, he joined what is today’s Mizuho in 1989 and has also had stints in areas including risk management and finance.
He is the older brother of Seiji Kihara, deputy chief Cabinet secretary and a close aide to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Toyoki Sameshima, an analyst at SBI Securities Co., focused on Kihara’s relative youth.
“He could reinvigorate the organization,” Sameshima said, adding that he hadn’t verified the reports himself. He also said that there had been some speculation that the bank may hire an outsider.
Sameshima said it may be best to appoint a chairman from outside Mizuho to bring independent perspective to the group, which has struggled with repeated technical failures since its creation more than two decades ago.
Sakai said in November that he would step down after the country’s financial regulator issued a business-improvement order and said the lender didn’t pay enough attention to risks within its computer systems.
In the business order, the Financial Services Agency criticized Mizuho’s corporate culture and weak governance, saying it has failed to learn from the past incidents.
The latest series of glitches started last February, when ATMs swallowed more than 5,000 cash cards and passbooks. A month later, a hardware failure caused a delay in 300 foreign-currency money transfers. By the time Sakai announced his planned departure, there had been eight such incidents since the beginning of 2021.
The smallest of Japan’s three megabanks, Mizuho also has been struggling to catch up with bigger rivals that are expanding beyond traditional lending into investment banking and wealth management.
Mizuho has also been diversifying. In its latest move, the bank agreed to buy U.S.-based Capstone Partners to expand in the business of helping private equity firms raise funds. The deal is slated to be completed in the first half of the year, the bank said in a statement on Monday.
The business will be aided by Capstone’s network of more than 1,500 limited partners across the U.S., Europe and Asia.
“Financial sponsors are rapidly evolving beyond their traditional roles and expanding their lines of business,” Shuji Matsuura, chairman and chief executive officer at Mizuho Americas, said in the statement. “Capstone is an excellent example of a firm that offers sponsor clients with a strategic value-add solution, which aligns well with our integrated and global coverage approach.”
Sakai, who became CEO of Mizuho Financial Group in 2018, has been trying to reshape the bank and change its corporate culture. He made major modifications to its organizational structure to focus resources on growth areas and rein in costs. Despite the system troubles, Mizuho reported sharp profit growth for the first half ended in September and announced its first dividend hike in seven years.
Morningstar’s Makdad said improving Mizuho’s financial performance is one of Sakai’s achievements. But “the challenge of corporate culture — where Mizuho two decades after its three-way merger still has yet to really fully integrate as one group — couldn’t be conquered for good during his tenure,” he said.
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