ABN’s Groenink Watches an Era’s End Approach

ABN Amro CEO Rijkman Groenink is not getting a lot of sleep

right now. He has 48 hours to do a deal he never really wanted to do in the

first place, or else see his bank broken up, reduced to little more than a financial-services


The modern world has finally caught up, it would seem, with what the Wall

Street Journal describes as "the bank, one of Europe’s aristocratic

firms with roots dating to 1824." Arrayed against Groenink and his arranged

marriage with the just-as-aristocratic John Varley of Barclays

are some decidedly new-world names, chief among them Fred Goodwin

of RBS, Emilio Botin of Santander, and Christopher

Hohn of The Children’s Investment Fund.

Rather than a friendly merger with an established name like Barclays, Groenink

faces the prospect of seeing his Dutch assets – the crown jewel of ABN

Amro’s holdings – being sold to Fortis, of all banks. Fortis,

an expensive name from some brand factory, has no history except for being the

product of multiple mergers of entities with names like N.V. AMEV, VSB, AG Group,

ASLK-CGER, and SNCI-NMKN. You can feel the Groenink shudder from across the


It’s not that old-school aristocratic financial institutions can’t survive

in today’s cutthroat world: look at UBS, for instance. But ABN Amro has been

a disappointment for many years now. Groenink is surely praying that Varley

manages to pull the trigger, or that Fortis will run

into trouble with the regulators. But he also knows that, sooner rather

than later, his bank will get sold to whoever can offer his shareholders the

most money. Which might be a little vulgar, but is also perfectly old-fashioned

in its own way.

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