ABN 'restructures' corporate finance

Dutch firm, ABN AMRO, well known for its reorganizations, produces another major shake-up impacting Asia.

Just when ABN AMRO bankers thought it was safe to go back in the water, the Dutch management delivered another round of restructuring late last week. The impact will be felt in Asia, and the news will be particulary difficult for some to swallow since the firm has been on a roll in region in the past few years. ABN has won plaudit for its corporate finance strategy in Asia with key advisory roles on M&A deals such as the SABMiller bid for Harbin Brewery and the San Miguel bid for National Foods.

Now, after a period of relative continuity, a new strategic reorganization has emerged from headquarters in Europe.

The key point to emerge from the reorganization is that the corporate finance division is to be restructured - or eliminated, depending on your choice of words. In its stead a new division will be created that combines equity capital markets and M&A execution. It will be headed in Asia by former head of ECM, Matthew Kirkby.

Former head of corporate finance, James Pearson is believed to have been offered other opportunities within the firm, but his role as Asian corporate finance boss has gone from the organization chart. This will surprise some since he rejoined ABN - from Morgan Stanley - at the beginning of 2004 with a mandate to take the Asian corporate finance effort to the next level, using his M&A background.

The new structure will see all those bankers working in corporate finance reassigned to the wholesale client coverage team. They will be assigned to industry groups, and be expected to market to clients the whole range of investment banking products - including debt and global markets products.

It is reckoned that merging the coverage teams will lead to staff reductions. In December, ABN stated that it would cut 1350 jobs in its wholesale banking group (which includes investment banking) and add 250 jobs in what it views as growth areas (primarily derivatives).

Outside Asia, the changes have led to the departures of the global head of corporate finance, Steven Gregg and the global head of M&A, Peter Dodd.

The impact of the changes can also be seen in the overhaul of the firm's 'wholesale clients' executive board. This is the unit of the bank that deals with commercial and investment banking (the other two deal respectively with private clients and asset management).

The nine person wholesale clients board was previously loaded with 'investment bankers', or in ABN-terminology 'global clients' people. A total of four came from the 'global clients' side of the business, which was the side of the firm that the longstanding head of wholesale clients, Wilco Jiskoot came from - indeed, Jiskoot was a widely respected ECM and M&A banker.

However, around three weeks ago, the head of global markets, Piero Overmars was elevated to the top job running wholesale clients, replacing Jiskoot. It was this move that triggered the latest round of reorganization - the speed of whose execution shows that Overmars is not someone inclined to mess around.

The executive committee, or Exco, has seen a shift in personnel that underlines the new emphasis. Only one remains from the 'global clients' side of the business - Alexandra Cook-Schaapveld - down from the previous four. In the new Exco, there is a representative from commercial banking, structured derivatives, global markets, the head of the North American business, plus the head of the international business - as well as the CEO, CFO and COO.

The moves are part of a reweighting at ABN towards those businesses which are viewed as driving the greater chunk of the revenues - namely global markets and derivatives.

From an Asian perspective, one significant move on the Exco has been the removal of Sam Zavatti. Zavatti held a seat on Exco as the global head of FIPS (an ABN term for the financial institutions group) and this was significant for Asia since he was based in Hong Kong. He will now become a vice-chairman with coverage responsibilities for financial institutions.

Meanwhile FIPS has become just another industry sector within the new structure - having no special status on the Exco.

More detail is expected to be announced by ABN today about further personnel changes in the Asian business.

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