Deutsche Bank's chief executive is prepared to make "tough cutbacks" in its investment banking business, whose future is in doubt after several failed restructurings, in order to be profitable and competitive. 

Shares in Deutsche Bank hit a record low today as Christian Sewing kicked off its annual meeting.

The CEO is facing shareholder discontent over its strategy and leadership, with some calling for a scaling back of its sprawling global investment banking business. 

Deutsche Bank's shares have lost 38% since last year's shareholder meeting.

"We will accelerate transformation by rigorously focusing our bank on profitable and growing businesses which are particularly relevant to our clients," Sewing said. 

"We're prepared to make tough cutbacks," he said, without elaborating on where the cuts would occur. 

Deutsche Bank's struggling equities division, which is mainly in New York and London and saw steep cutbacks last year, is a target, and prime brokerage that serves hedge funds is also under scrutiny. 

Deutsche Bank has been plagued by failed regulatory tests, ratings downgrades, big fines and management reshuffles in recent years and posted its first profit in four years in 2018. 

Big cuts to the investment bank would mark a reversal of a decades-long push to expand.

Deutsche Bank began the effort with the purchase of Morgan Grenfell in London in 1989 and continued a decade later by taking over Bankers Trust in New York.

The bank was already braced for a potentially rocky ride at this year's gathering after two advisory groups - Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis - urged investors to issue a vote of no confidence in management. 

Deutsche Bank also is facing tough questions over its failed merger talks with Commerzbank and top shareholders have said that its chairman, Paul Achleitner, should step down before his term ends in 2022. 

One small but vocal investor last month added a vote to oust Achleitner to the meeting's agenda because the bank "remains trapped in an unbroken downward spiral". 

The supervisory board issued a statement backing its chairman.

The investment bank generates about half of Deutsche Bank's revenue but is also considered its Achilles heel, with European regulators fearful that it will fail the next round of stress tests in the US. 

Revenue at the division is forecast to fall to €12.5 billion this year, according to a consensus of analysts. That would mark a fourth consecutive year of decline, down 34% from 2015, based on Reuters calculations. 

That contrasts with a projected 6% rise in JP Morgan's investment banking revenue to $36 billion for the same period. 

It is also far worse than a 5% drop in investment banking revenue across the industry from 2015 to 2018, according to Coalition, which tracks banking industry performance. 

Sewing told shareholders that he would focus on investment bank divisions that benefit other segments, and those that are profitable as a stand alone. 

Among the departments that Sewing cited as successful were origination and advisory; corporate finance; foreign exchange; global credit trading and US commercial real estate. 

The process of deciding who and where to cut are in the early stages, another person with knowledge of the matter said. 

Last year, soon after becoming CEO, Sewing announced a first wave of cuts to the investment bank that included a 25% reduction in the equities division. 

Sewing, in a memo to employees seen by Reuters, said he was aware of the hardship ahead. 

"The pace, and the demands, will be high. But it's the only way we'll become more sustainably profitable and remain competitive," he wrote.