European banks on the brink of an M&A boom
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European banks on the brink of an M&A boom

Investors want growth and are impatient to get it. Bank CEOs are feeling the pressure, so expect more M&A activity.

Two’s a trickle, three’s a trend. And by that logic, following Santander’s acquisition of Abbey last year, UniCredit’s embrace of HVB this spring and ABN Amro’s recent capture of Antonveneta, it might take just one more cross-border M&A deal to set off a torrent in European banking.

The mood of expectation, the sense of an industry on the verge of being plunged into a new phase of development by perhaps a single ambitious deal, is growing every day.

Executives at the large banks now talk openly about plans for bolt-on acquisitions in specific business lines – wealth management, consumer finance – and in emerging markets such as central and eastern Europe, China and India.

They are less outspoken about another preoccupation: the fear that, if other large banks in Europe start to partner off, even those running successful market-leading banks today could find themselves being subsumed tomorrow. But behind the scenes, the regular informal dinners between rival bank CEOs and chairmen are now proceeding with a new urgency and a new intensity in the preparatory analysis of potential combinations.

The strategic logic supporting cross-border deals in a single European market has been obvious for half a decade, since most countries reached the point of the top three or four banks controlling 70% to 80% of national banking systems.

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