Monday, April 23, 2007

EU becomes domestic reality: ABN AMRO and Barclays announce agreement on terms of take-over by Barclays

See the Press Release here to find out that:
- the Boards of ABN AMRO and Barclays jointly agreed on 'merging' their organisations, (eufemistic terminology for what constitutes a take-over by Barclays),
- Barclays will be the holding company for the combined group,
- ABN AMRO ordinary shareholders will receive 3.225 ordinary shares in Barclays ("New Barclays Shares") for each existing ABN AMRO ordinary share (the "Offer").
- the combined group (with its headquarters in Amsterdam) will have a UK corporate governance structure with a unitary Board,
- the UK Financial Services Authority ("FSA") and De Nederlandsche Bank ("DNB") have agreed that the FSA will be the lead supervisor of the combined group.
- Bank of America Corp has today agreed to acquire LaSalle Bank Corporation ("LaSalle") for USD21 billion and is expected to complete this acquisition before completion of the Offer.

This is quite a defining moment in time (at least for the Dutch and ABN AMRO). While policy-makers tuned in to 1992 as the starting date for an European marketplace, truth of the matter is that it took about 15 years for this ideal to become reality. But as of now it is quite clear that domestic markets no longer are the boundary for players in the market. Yet, I am afraid that the payment-policy elite of the Netherlands may be bound to continue reasoning from a domestic perspective.

As if to illustrate the above, today is also the day when members of Dutch parliament (quite obviously prompted by retailer-lobby organisations) started asking questions in parliament on the competition in payments and on the possibilities of price increase as a result of SEPA. This shows that retailers succeeded quite easily in (hijacking and) narrowing down complex policy discussions about European payments markets into an ordinary Dutch price-rebate discussion for merchants.

I hope that it's only a couples of years that we will have to live with a time-lag and perception lag between banks on the one hand (that already live in a competitive European market reality) and domestic policy makers, lobby groups and parliaments on the other hand (that persist in framing all issues back to old-style-domestic interventions and questions). And that the old-style domestic school may at one time start to understand that the only price-guarantuee that one can legitimatically ask for, in a democratic society, is the price-guarantee deliverd by true international competition.