Fortis Investments says no change despite bailout

The need by Fortis Group to sell assets acquired from ABN Amro last year will not include asset management.
Employees of the former ABN Amro Asset Management can breathe easy: their business is not about to be sold yet again.

The same doesnÆt hold true for ABN AmroÆs global private bank or its retail bank in Europe. Fortis Group, having acquired all of these businesses last year when ABN Amro was carved up (between Fortis, Bank Santander and RBS), must now sell these in the wake of a bailout of Fortis BankÆs operations in the Benelux countries.

Fortis became the next financial group to succumb to the loss of market confidence, forcing it last week to hasten an asset-disposal programme designed to raise around $15 billion. It is also on its third CEO in three months.

On Sunday, the governments of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands together bailed out Fortis Bank to the tune of Ç11.2 billion ($16.4 billion), following the collapse of talks to sell it to either ING or BNP Paribas. The money will go to acquire 49% of FortisÆs banking subsidiaries in those three countries.

Fortis has also been required to sell its interest in RFS Holding, which is the holding company for the former ABN Amro business whose various businesses are now owned by the R (RBS), the F (Fortis) and the S (Santander).

Mark te Riele, deputy head of Asia at Fortis Investments in Hong Kong, says on April 1, ABN Amro Asset Management was extracted from RFS and became a formal, fully integrated part of Fortis Investments. Therefore this business û its people and assets û do not need to be sold by Fortis Group.

Fortis will lose, however, the retail and private bank, which have been important distribution platforms for Fortis Investments. ABN AmroÆs private bank was global, but te Riele notes it has already embraced open architecture. ôWe will try to remain a provider,ö he says.

But otherwise the sales have ôzero impact on our structureö, te Riele adds.

Ping An Group in March said it would take a 50% stake in Fortis Investments for $3.3 billion, but negotiations or regulatory issues have held up that deal. Ping An already owns 4.18% of Fortis Group. A Ping An spokesman says the Chinese group welcomes the Benelux buyout, which will aid FortisÆs liquidity situation.

But the situation cannot be good for Ping An, as the divestment of the remaining ABN Amro businesses will leave Fortis with an impairment. Shareholders have poured billions into the ailing banks over the past few weeks, and Ping An reported a Rmb10 billion impairment as of June.

Fortis Investments, including its former ABN Amro Asset Management components, now sources Ç20 billion from Asia-Pacific clients, according to Fortis Investments CEO Richard Wohanka in March.
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