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Deutsche Bank Shifts Prime Brokerage to BNP With 1,000 Jobs

Donal Griffin and Steven Arons

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Deutsche Bank AG finalized a deal transferring its business with hedge fund clients to BNP Paribas SA as part of the German lender’s historic retreat from investment banking.

About 1,000 Deutsche Bank employees will move to the French rival through 2021, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Ashley Wilson, one of two executives at the German bank overseeing the disposal of unwanted assets, will head the business during this period and may eventually leave to run the combined unit at BNP, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private.

The volume of assets BNP will ultimately add remains uncertain because Deutsche Bank’s client balances slumped by about half to $80 billion since it announced its intention to transfer the business. The lenders expect clients to come back now that there’s more certainty, the people said. But analysts at Citigroup Inc. led by Andrew Coombs questioned whether there will be anything left to transfer by the time the deal is closed.

The two firms had agreed on the move in principle in early July, as Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing retreats from equities trading -- which houses the prime business-- in the bank’s biggest restructuring in decades. But finalizing the accord has been complicated by the client defections. For Sewing’s counterpart at BNP, Jean-Laurent Bonnafe, the deal could bring the scale needed to compete with the bigger players.

Top Contender

Shares of both lenders fell Monday along with the broader market. Deutsche Bank declined 3.5% at 12:52 p.m. in Frankfurt, curbing gains this year to 1.3%. BNP lost 2.8% in Paris and is up 11% in 2019.

The agreement, which is subject to regulatory approval, could vault BNP into the global top 4 of prime brokerages over the next 12 months, reaching $250 billion to $300 billion in client balances eventually, according to the people. Deutsche Bank will continue to manage the platform until clients can be passed over, the two banks said on Monday.

“Now that the deal has signed, we believe we have the basis to regain and expand on the business,” Deutsche Bank Chief Operating Officer Frank Kuhnke said in a telephone interview. The deal “provides tangible real benefits for our customers and gives our staff a way forward.”

The agreement comes just a few days after Deutsche Bank sold its first portfolio of equity derivatives, another key step to exit equities trading and get the associated assets off its balance sheet. The bank has said it will provide more details when it publishes third-quarter results on Oct. 30.

Representatives of BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

When the two firms first discussed the deal, Deutsche Bank’s prime brokerage business was set to move about 150 billion euros ($165 billion) of balances, people familiar with the matter have said. Yet clients put off by the uncertainty of the deal headed for the exit, pulling about $1 billion of funds per day, the people said at the time.

Prime-brokerage divisions cater specifically to hedge funds, lending them cash and securities and executing their trades, and the relationships can be vital for investment banks. The prime business generated about $18.3 billion in fees across the industry in 2018, about the same as revenue from trading corporate debt and currencies combined, data from Coalition Development Ltd. show.

The deal will give BNP the technology it needs to improve trading with asset managers and hedge funds specializing in quantitative strategies, Olivier Osty, global head of markets at the Paris-based bank, said in an interview. Executives at the French lender had been planning to develop a platform themselves but had estimated it would take three to four years, he said.

Quant Muscle

“The electronic platform is dedicated to managing all the big quant funds that we’re missing in our franchise,” Osty said. “So this is the opportunity to bring to BNP Paribas a product that was missing and that could allow us to grow.”

Quantitative hedge funds, such as Winton Capital Management and AQR Capital Management, use computer algorithms to evaluate risk, pricing and timing in financial markets. Investors, fed up with years of lackluster returns by other kinds of managers, have flocked to the industry. Assets under management at so-called quants have surged 88% since 2010 to $951 billion, compared with a 53% gain for other funds, according to data from Hedge Fund Research Inc.

Deutsche Bank, which became a force on Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis, has struggled to keep hedge-fund clients in recent years as it lurched from one problem to another. U.S. rivals JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are the top three firms in the business, while Deutsche Bank wasn’t among the top seven prime brokers in 2018, Coalition data show.

Little Left

BNP has sought to profit from crisis before. The lender bought Bank of America Corp.’s prime-brokerage business in June 2008 as the credit crunch raged, acquiring more than 500 clients and 300 employees. Still, the firm has one of the smallest prime units among global banks, according to Coalition.

Deutsche Bank’s hedge fund balances have been declining throughout the year as speculation swirled around Sewing’s intentions for the prime brokerage unit. One major client -- Renaissance Technologies -- has been pulling money from the firm, people familiar said earlier.

“The majority of prime finance mandates appear to have been put out for tender,” Citigroup’s Coombs wrote in a note to clients. “By the time the transaction finally closes, there may therefore be little by way of outstanding prime balances to transfer across.”

(Updates with shares in fifth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Nishant Kumar and Jan-Henrik Förster.

To contact the reporters on this story: Donal Griffin in London at dgriffin10@bloomberg.net;Steven Arons in Frankfurt at sarons@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Dale Crofts at dcrofts@bloomberg.net, Christian Baumgaertel

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