The Netherlands builds its appeal to foreign corporates

Large global players in the financial services industry have either set up or developed their operations recently in the Netherlands, including Allianz Global Investors, BNP Paribas, Lloyd’s insurance and Nordea.

The Netherlands is gaining renewed interest from financial corporates that are using the region to earn new clients there and expand their offering in Europe.

Recently, players in asset management and banking have been opening Netherlands operations. Allianz Global Investors Europe opened up a Dutch outfit, headed by Hedwig Peters, at the end of last year offering fiduciary management services for clients.

BNP Paribas is making a large corporate and investment banking push into the region, boosting its already significant presence there. On 30 September 2010, it announced plans to add four new regional business centres in the Netherlands, with two opening up first in Amsterdam and Rotterdam at the end of last year and a further two set to open this year in
Utrecht and Eindhoven.

Although those moves focus on banking, BNP Paribas’s asset management arm, BNP Paribas Investment Partners, is also set to benefit. Gaining its name under the official BNP Paribas umbrella in April 2010, the company was established as a result of the acquisition of the beleaguered Fortis Investments in 2009. That purchase enabled BNP Paribas to become the leading asset manager in the Netherlands last year, according to Lipper data.

Private banking

The group also signalled the future it saw for private banking in the region when it snapped up private bank Insinger de Beaufort and merged it with Nachenius Tjeenk & Co, which it had earlier acquired from ABN AMRO in 2005, putting the two under one name in May 2009.

Another BNP Paribas offshoot, Cardiff Insurance, which specialises in income and life products, has “ambitious growth plans in the Netherlands”, according to the group.

Insurer Lloyd’s, meanwhile, recognised the potential to gain business in the entire Benelux region when it opened its first office for the economic area in Rotterdam on 10 March. Explaining its location choice, the firm said in a statement: “Benelux is a mature, thriving insurance market, and Rotterdam is perfectly positioned between Amsterdam and Antwerp to take advantage of it.”

Aside from the UK, the Netherlands is already the fourth largest market in Europe for the insurance giant, with Belgium its 12th and Luxembourg just behind as its 13th.

Benelux regional manager Ralph van Helden was appointed to his position only in August last year. It did not take long for Lloyd’s to decide it was worth making a more significant commitment to the region by opening an office there.

“The Netherlands has always been very open for business,” says Liesbeth Staps, executive director at the NFIA, based in London. The next group that could establish itself in the region is Nordic banking group Nordea, following the recent appointment of Oren Eilon, tasked with helping to increase the group’s AUM in the Netherlands.

He reports to Thierry Muller, head of fund distribution for Benelux.

After six months of consultation with asset managers, family offices and small private banks – which delivered encouraging feedback – Muller decided the Netherlands market warranted penetrating further.

There, Nordea will concentrate on catering to family offices, wealth managers, fund of funds, and mid-sized private banks, he says. So why the Netherlands specifically?

One reason is that the Dutch people are quite similar to the Danish, says Muller. The Luxembourg market, meanwhile, is already well covered by the group, having developed its activities there for more than three years. As for Belgium, the task there is more difficult, Muller admits.

“Belgium is tricky. It’s a smaller market and hard to penetrate. The Dutch people are more open-minded. We prefer the Netherlands [to] Belgium,” he says.

Although Nordea is still trying to scope potential to develop its services in Belgium, efforts are marginal compared with the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Muller continues to consider Belgium on his own without the support of an employee focused on that country. “With Belgium,” he says, “We are taking a more practical approach – when there are opportunities, we will try to catch them.”

One way in which Nordea is doing that is by seeking to register a Sicav in Belgium, the only EU country where it does not hold a registration. Across the border in the Netherlands, on the other hand, expansion is far easier because the structures are already in place.

“Our fund was already registered and distributed in the Netherlands,” says Muller.

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