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Cablegate: German Bank Consolidation Reveals Conservative Business

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OO RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
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O 190558Z SEP 08
FM AMCONSUL FRANKFURT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7968
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES IMMEDIATE
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FRANKFURT 002857

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EFIN ECON EU GM

SUBJECT: German Bank Consolidation Reveals Conservative Business
Models

ENTIRE TEXT IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET
DISTRIBUTION

REF: Frankfurt 2735

1. SUMMARY. In a recent wave of acquisitions in the German banking
sector, private German banks have taken over partners with large
retail businesses to shore up capital and acquire steady, reliable
sources of income. These moves reflect a changing business model
designed to help banks adjust to a new reality where previous
sources of funding such as investment banking are more limited and
capital is scarce. In a series of conversations with a Treasury
delegation, private bank risk officers discussed the new reality,
forecasting that banks would be following more conservative
strategies in the coming years. END SUMMARY.

Takeovers Reflect New Business Models
-------------------------------------

2. On September 11, Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for
International Monetary and Financial Policy Mark Sobel, Office of
International Banking and Securities Markets Director William
Murden, US Treasury Representative for Europe Mathew Haarsager and
ConGen Econ Off met with risk officers at Dresdner Bank, Deutsche
Bank and Commerzbank to discuss ongoing trends in the European
financial sector (Note: These meetings took place a few days before
Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and Merril Lynch was acquired.
End Note.). Deutsche Bank's chief risk officer (CRO) confirmed
media reports to the group that the bank was in final stages of
buying a 30% stake in Postbank (which is 50% owned by Deutsche Post)
with an option to increase its share to a majority at a later date,
a move which will greatly expand Deutsche's retail presence. The
move follows Commerzbank's acquisition of Dresdner Bank one week
before (see reftel).

3. The Deutsche Bank executive welcomed the deal saying that it
offered stable, profitable business on Deutsche's "own turf."
Although retail banking is a crowded market in Germany, he expressed
confidence that his bank offers better service and products than the
many savings banks. Commerzbank's chief risk officer expressed
similar optimism about his bank's acquisition of Dresdner, saying
the new bank would be a leader in lending to small and medium-sized
businesses in Central and Eastern Europe and would follow a very
traditional and conservative business model avoiding the pitfalls of
some banks during financial market turmoil. By expanding their
retail business, both banks will gain access to capital, whose
availability from other sources, such as equity markets, has
diminished in the last year.

Lessons Learned on Risk Management
----------------------------------

4. Dresdner Bank's chief risk officer agreed with his colleagues at
Deutsche and Commerz that the main lesson from the credit crisis was
that none of the banks anticipated the rapid drying up of liquidity
in August 2007. When the crisis hit, Dresdner found that it was
unable to unload asset-backed securities which it usually held on a
six-month basis. The assets have now become illiquid, forcing
Dresdner to write down their values. Dresdner, which has suffered
negative earnings since the beginning of the turmoil, will be forced
to keep the assets for the foreseeable future.

5. At all three banks, the CROs pointed to challenges ahead in
staving off future crises and maintaining vigilance in risk
assessment. All sides agreed that the term "procyclicality" (the
idea that market and regulatory conditions can amplify a crisis)
remains vague and there is no wide-spread agreement on what it is or
how to prevent it. While Basel II may be a step in the right
direction, the Deutsche Bank executive pointed out that it also
operates as a "double whammy" on banks by raising capital
requirements in already difficult times. Moreover, raising capital
requirements fails to differentiate among banks by ignoring the
underlying quality of assets on balance sheets. All of the
interlocutors saw accounting standards as a vexing problem, as
current mark-to-market rules fail to account for a dysfunctional
market. But there is seemingly no better way.

6. The three executives agreed that the role of the CROs in banks
needs to be strengthened. While Deutsche Bank cautioned against
"going back to the Stone Age" in risk management, the Commerzbank
executive argued that CROs need to define risk policy, think more
about liquidity and be independent and strong. The Dresdner
executive expressed more fatalism saying that management would
continue not to listen to CROs in high times, making the next crisis
inevitable. He argued that while a CRO can disapprove individual
transactions, he or she can not change the whole business model, and
can at times be either complicit in or not able to see the

FRANKFURT 00002857 002 OF 002


problems.

7. COMMENT. The takeovers among German banks reflect a change in
the business model to more traditional banking as well as an attempt
to access fresh capital. This strategy of risk aversion as well as
diversification may also mean that German banks are positioned
conservatively if and when market conditions improve. Many of the
debates about the way forward remain unresolved, leaving risk
officers and senior management little choice but to pursue a more
cautious strategy in the coming years. END COMMENT.

8. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin and cleared with
Wilbur Monroe at the Treasury Department.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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