BERNE (Reuters) - With his down-to-earth, soft-spoken manner, Switzerland’s interim central bank chief Thomas Jordan will differ in manner but not in substance from suave former head Philipp Hildebrand, who resigned on Monday over a currency dealing scandal.
Jordan, born in 1963, will take the helm from Oxford-educated Hildebrand after an uproar over a currency trade by Hildebrand’s wife just a few weeks before the SNB capped the franc at 1.20 per euro, prompting accusations she had profited from privileged information.
Having joined the SNB in 1997, Jordan, who received his doctorate from the University of Berne and did postgraduate work at Harvard, is no newcomer to central banking.
SNB watchers say he is an excellent economist who has played a key role in shaping SNB policy. He headed the financial markets unit and for the past two years has overseen the regulatory department, which is pushing for flagship banks UBS and Credit Suisse to solidify their balance sheets.
“He is a very bright thinker, quiet but tenacious. Also great international experience and esteem, extremely reliable and trustworthy. Certainly a very tough negotiator,” said Ernst Baltensperger, professor emeritus at the University of Berne and Jordan’s PhD supervisor.
“He would without doubt guarantee a continuation of current SNB policy, in particular its orientation towards the goal of monetary and financial stability,” said Baltensperger, who himself worked for the SNB in the late 1970s.
Policymaking may also be helped by the fact that Jordan likely will be more palatable to the right wing than his predecessor.
“He is well-versed in subject matter and a very careful person,” Sarasin economist Alessandro Bee said of Jordan. “That will certainly help calm the situation. He argues in a very fact based manner.”
Hildebrand made enemies in the banking world by championing tougher bank regulation and came under fire from Christoph Blocher, a leading member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), after the SNB ran up a 21 billion franc annual loss in 2010 due to forex interventions.
It was Blocher who handed Hildebrand’s bank data to the Swiss cabinet and who had several times in the past year called on the central bank chief to quit.
Parliamentarian Christoph Moergeli, also from the SVP, had advocated Hildebrand be replaced by his deputy. “Mr. Jordan is a good man,” he told Reuters last week.
Blocher declined on Monday to comment on Jordan.
Hildebrand and Jordan both hail from the canton of Berne and spent time at top English-language universities, but the exterior similarities end there.
At conferences, Jordan comes across as quiet, almost reticent, in contrast to the outgoing Hildebrand, who sports a luxury watch, appeared in a glossy magazine spread and hobnobbed with the likes of Bill Clinton at the World Economic Forum.
Yet despite his mild manner, Jordan is seen as resolute; he is seen as able to resist pressure on the independent SNB from politicians seeking to shift the franc cap to 1.30 or 1.40 per euro to weaken the franc further.
“From his appearance Mr. Jordan is more dry and academic,” said Sarasin’s Bee. “But it won’t have any influence on policy.”
Reporting by Catherine Bosley; Editing by Hugh Lawson