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High hopes in the Low Countries

In times of financial uncertainty, it is always tempting for banks to retreat to the business they know best. In the Netherlands, this means pulling back from international expansion and focusing on the domestic retail market. But there is always going to be one bank looking abroad for new opportunities.

Artist's impression of ING's new HQ: "we like to
leave the building to people's imagination"

ING Groep is building a new head office in Amsterdam. Some people reckon it looks like a galleon that has run aground on a sandbank. Others liken it to a giant gym shoe or, as a taxi driver put it, "an enormous cockroach". It is within easy reach of Schiphol airport. More important, perhaps, it is close to the ABN Amro headquarters. Executives at ING Groep say that this is a coincidence. They just took advantage of a good site.

But while ING is flavour of the month with banking analysts, ABN Amro, which has undertaken a massive restructuring of its wholesale business, is out of favour. ABN Amro's chairman, Rijkman Groenik, is accused by market participants of saying something different about his bank's strategy every time he opens his mouth, leaving them unsure of his intentions.

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