Fortis no more

fortisAlthough the global financial crisis did not start within the fund management industry, its effects on the industry were far-reaching. Before Easter, on April Fool's Day' hopefully not a bad sign' one of the largest changes wrought by the crisis in Europe reached its conclusion when BNP Paribas Investment Partners (BNPP IP) and Fortis Investments formally combined their operations under the BNP Paribas brand.

The combining of the two entities is the final chapter in a fraught rescue of the Dutch-Belgian bancassurer Fortis by BNP Paribas’s banking business. The French bank first stepped in to rescue Fortis in October 2008 after the bancassurer had to be bailed out by the Belgian and Dutch governments. The Belgian government initially planned to sell Fortis to BNP Paribas without consulting investors, but a court ruling forced a vote at which the sale was rejected.

A second version of the deal was approved in April last year in Ghent amid angry scenes. Shareholders opposed to the deal threw shoes and coins at Fortis executives and gave an ironic rendition of La Marseillaise. They claimed Jozef De Mey, the chairman of Fortis Holding, was selling out to the French and that recent shareholders were working for French government interests and should not be allowed to vote.

A further rendition of La Marseillaise may be called for the today. The takeover of Fortis has made BNP Paribas the largest bank in the eurozone region by deposits. With the combining of the Fortis’s and BNP Paribas’ investment businesses, BNPP IP becomes the fifth-largest asset manager in Europe and the eleventh-largest in the world, with €530bn in assets under management and advice.

“This is an important moment for our company,” said Philippe Marchessaux, CEO of BNPP IP. “Now that we have joined forces, BNP Paribas Investment Partners is able to provide its clients with one of the most comprehensive ranges of investment solutions and services in the market.”

The deal gives BNPP IP strong positions in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, though on past showing a certain lack of enthusiasm for its products may be expected from Belgian investors in particular. BNPP IP also strengthens its position in Italy through the deal and in the all-important emerging markets. The French company claims the addition of Fortis’s emerging-markets business means it's now “one of the world's premier emerging market managers, with an extensive on-the-ground presence, in-depth local investment knowledge and a full range of emerging market investment solutions”.

The deal also means the end of the Fortis name in the investment sector. The name is already gone from the banking sector.

Fiona Rintoul, Editorial Director
©2010 Funds Europe