When you go onto Dresdner Bank's website you are greeted with the question, 'What can Dresdner Bank do for you?' From tomorrow, in Asia, the answer to that question could be: 'Not very much.'
People very close to the situation have told FinanceAsia that the bank has decided to almost completely close the Asian operations of its securities and investment banking business, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DKW). This means that the bank will be shutting down its Asian equity research, sales and trading divisions, as well as scrapping its ECM team.
All that is likely to be left is a single proprietary desk trading Dresdner Bank's own assets in the region and a rump group of corporate financiers serving a handful of lending relationships. A source close to the bank says that Dresdner intends to re-focus on Europe where it does have a strong investment banking franchise and retain residual staff in Asia to serve those clients' Asian operations.
Dresdner Bank employs 700 people in non-Japan Asia and 400 people in Japan. Sources suggest that around 700 people will lose their jobs in Asia. It is unclear at this juncture what will be the fate of the bank's Japanese operations.
On Friday, staff in Asia received an email informing them lay-offs will be made, but no announcement further than that has been made either internally or externally. Despite the lack of official news, rumours are flying and everyone is assuming the worst.
Sources within the bank say that senior management are hammering out the lay-off packages at the moment and headhunters report they are already awash with Dresdner CVs. Adam Osborn, head of Asian research, is reported to be one of the first to have left DKW as he cleared his desk on Friday. He could not be contacted for comment.
The news comes after Friday's announcement from head office in Frankfurt that Dresdner would be losing 1,500 staff from its DKW subsidiary. It said the bulk of these lay-offs would be in New York and Asia. It now appears that Asia is bearing the brunt. This is perhaps understandable given that DKW was run by Bruce Wasserstein from whom Dresdner bought investment bank Wasserstein, Perella in 2000. He is one of New York's best known investment bankers and since he is staying at Dresdner, it has been assumed that he will fight to retain his New York colleagues above those in Asia -- a region where Wasserstein, Perella had never had a presence.
Moreover in Friday's announcement, it was revealed that Dresdner's present head of Asia, Baudouin Croonenberghs, will become a member of the executive committee responsible for the implementation of the restructuring of the old DKW team into Dresdner Bank. This team will now be called 'corporates and markets' and will be run under the Dresdner Bank name. It is unclear if Croonenbergh's new position will be in Germany, or if he will remain in Asia during the restructuring process.
Dresdner was recently bought by German insurance giant Allianz, which presumably looked at the business and saw not much in the way of profit was coming from Asia. One source at DKW in London recently told FinanceAsia that the bank was only running its offices in Asia so that it could put the word 'global' on its list of attributes.
The bank has not had much success in Asia in recent years. Perhaps most famously, the bank had to pull the $240 million IPO of Chinese telco Jitong Communications in November last year. The aborted deal came at the tail end of a string of successful equity deals for China Unicom and China Mobile and Dresdner's inability to the deal -- along with the other lead manager of the IPO Lehman Brothers -- was questioned at the time.
Officials from Dresdner's Asian headquarters in Hong Kong were keeping quiet on Monday with calls to the COO, CEO and even the switchboard going unanswered. Requests for confirmation of the closure were similarly denied.
Other banks that have famously cut back staff in Asia in difficult times include Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan, which sold off its equity business in 1998, a move that JP officials bitterly regret today as the bank strives to build its universal banking platform. Goldman officials also privately concede that their 1994 cut back in Asia set their Asian business back years in terms of lost credibility and client confidence. Neither JP, Merrill nor Goldman have announced any widespread Asian cut backs during the present slowdown. As a result, their businesses are stronger than ever in Asia.