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Unico banks seek new ways to work together

The Unico network of cooperative banks is nearly 30 years old. As it approaches middle age, can it persuade European debt issuers that the concept of a Unico deal that reaches both big and small investors across the continent is more than a neat branding ploy?

A GROUP OF bankers is plotting to create a new force in the European debt capital markets. Their network of financial institutions employs twice as many people as BNP Paribas and ABN Amro combined. At well over €100 billion, its total equity is on a par with Citigroup's. It has a €2.5 billion balance sheet. It says it is a top-five European bond underwriter. In Germany, one of the eight countries where the group is represented, it has access to nearly 10 times as many branches as Deutsche Bank.

These are serious resources. And they belong not to a marauding US house or an expansionist national champion from Europe itself. They belong to Unico Group, an alliance of European cooperative banks that is nearly 30 years old and whose cross-border activities were until recently more developed in such areas as leasing and cash management than in debt placement.

The logic seems inescapable. "On an aggregate basis, the cooperative banking sector would form a bulge-bracket firm by definition," says Arnold Fohler, head of origination and syndication at DZ Bank. "So if we combine our infrastructures, and our investor reach, we could be as strong as the bulge-bracket banks.

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