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Deutsche Bank leans toward limited revamp with Postbank sale: sources

Published 04/18/2015, 08:57 AM
Updated 04/18/2015, 09:21 AM
© Reuters. The logo of Germany's largest business bank, Deutsche Bank, is seen at the bank's headquarters behind twigs in Frankfurt
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By Kathrin Jones

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank (DE:DBKGn) will sell Postbank (DE:DPBGn) but keep a pared back own-brand retail business in the overhaul plan currently favored by management, sources familiar with the internal discussions at Germany's biggest lender said.

Only two management board members support dumping all retail activities, with the other six favoring just selling Postbank, the sources told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter is not public. The bank will decide on the hotly-debated overhaul as soon as next week, they added.

Seven years after the financial crisis started, Deutsche is looking to overhaul its business after falling far short of its return-on-equity targets and suffering a string of regulatory fines and legal challenges.

The choice to keep most retail operations and offload only Postbank, which Deutsche bought in steps for about 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) starting in 2008, is a concession to credit rating agencies concerned a complete retail exit would raise Deutsche's risk profile and cost of funding, the sources said.

It's also a nod to concerns in Berlin that a total retail exit would see the country's flagship bank lose touch with its home market, the sources said. Deutsche's own-brand retail chain serves some 8.5 million Germans through around 730 branches.

By selling Postbank, Deutsche aims to raise capital and retreat from the low-profit battlefield that is German retail banking, dominated by savings and cooperative banks.

NOBODY SPARED

Deep cuts will accompany any overhaul plan, including closing up to a third of the group's remaining German branches, the sources said, in what would be a dramatic retreat from main street.

Postbank, which serves 14 million clients from 1,100 branches integrated into the postal system, would be sold via the stock market, placed with a strategic investor or perhaps even with a private equity specialist, the sources said.

Postbank has burdened Deutsche with restructuring costs and write-offs since its purchase. Deutsche has invested heavily in technology upgrades to both retail brands in an attempt to cut operating costs but progress has been slow.

The challenge to any Postbank sale would be finding a buyer willing to pay enough to allow Deutsche to avoid billions in writedowns.

Previously, sources had told Reuters a plan to sell all of Deutsche's retail banking business to focus on investment and commercial banking was the favored route, after the bank's supervisory board reviewed up to five options at a meeting on March 20.

Whether Deutsche ditches retail entirely, thereby abandoning its "universal" model, or just opts to cut loose Postbank, it will represent an about-face for a group that has boasted how its wide retail activities offer a stabilizing counterweight to volatile investment banking and capital markets activities.

All the models considered by management also envisage taking a knife to activities in the investment bank that are low-profit or overly burdensome in terms of their regulatory capital requirements, the sources said.

The bank's supervisory board is expected to review proposals at an extraordinary meeting on April 24 and grill management on details before signing off on any plans ahead of its quarterly results scheduled for April 29.

The group has spent 7 billion euros in the past three years on fines and settlements and another 4 billion on restructuring, including the integration of Postbank.

Those costs have contributed to Deutsche Bank falling short of its own goals, with group return on equity of 3 percent in 2014 far from a 2015 target of 12 percent.

© Reuters. The logo of Germany's largest business bank, Deutsche Bank, is seen at the bank's headquarters behind twigs in Frankfurt

A spokesman for the bank declined to comment on options, except to say the bank still aimed to conclude its deliberations by the end of June.

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