UNTIL recently, ABN AMRO Bank Bhd's pursuits in Malaysia were largely confined to the corporate and investment banking arena. The solid client relationships built up over the years and its strong balance sheet ensured that it landed some pretty plum mandates from top-tier companies in Corporate Malaysia.
In fact, it was only recently that it shared the spotlight with Commerce International Merchant Bankers Bhd (CIMB) when tycoon T. Ananda Krishnan mounted his RM16.4bil privatisation bid for Maxis Communications Bhd. While ABN AMRO and CIMB are joint advisors for the deal, the former is the sole underwriter for the plan's financing requirements.
But some tweaking has been made to the Dutch bank's growth strategy in Malaysia, which although unlikely to turn the ABN AMRO brand into a household name in Malaysia, will certainly raise the profile of the banking group in the consumer banking space.
ABN AMRO Malaysia is a wholly owned unit of ABN AMRO Bank N.V. Its presence in Malaysia dates back to 1889, making it one of the oldest financial institutions in the country. Yet, the bank has maintained a relatively low profile until now, preferring instead to quietly work at building relationships with some of the country's leading corporations.
While the focus remains on pushing its suite of banking products to its corporate and commercial clients, ABN AMRO has nevertheless diversified its income stream to include new consumer banking products and services.
But even there, the focus is on offering premium banking products and services to tap Malaysia’s growing upper-middle class segment.
The bank's managing director Harry Naysmith explains that because the bank is relatively small in Malaysia, the emphasis will continue to be on niche offerings to ensure that ABN AMRO remains nimble and responsive to its clients' needs.
“Our strategy in Malaysia is to continue doing what we are doing. We want to retain our position as a bank that can react very quickly and put a balance sheet to back our customers.
“At the same time, we don't set up a business unless we think it is going to be profitable and can enhance the brand value of ABN AMRO,” he says.
Globally, ABN AMRO underwent a massive restructuring in 2001 that saw the Dutch banking group reorganise its core areas of expertise into three separate grouping: retail banking; wholesale banking and asset management.