In a broad rethinking of its international strategy, Bank One Corp. said Monday that it would close proprietary trading operations in London and Hong Kong, to concentrate on serving middle-market and foreign companies operating in the United States.
The moves-which will result in 200 job cuts, or 20% of the bank's non- U.S. work force-bring the international operations of the new Bank One more in line with its predecessor's U.S. middle-market focus. The former Banc One Corp. merged with First Chicago NBD Corp. in October.
Bank One is also addressing personnel matters in its domestic business. David J. Vitale, vice chairman of the $260 billion-asset company, said in an interview Monday that some 500 commercial banking positions were eliminated last month.
A Bank One spokesman said staff levels are being reviewed companywide, with an eye toward its annual cost-reduction goal of $930 million, half of which is supposed to be achieved this year. Layoffs or reassignments could occur in many business units, the spokesman said. No further details were given.
Overseas, the cuts primarily affect the London branch, with about 75 derivatives and foreign exchange trading positions scheduled to be gone by the end of February. The rest of the layoffs will occur over the next 18 months, Bank One said.
Though First Chicago NBD "historically had a heavy investment in the derivatives business in London, the reality is that business isn't as attractive as it was," Mr. Vitale said.
As a result, Bank One "decided to focus more on our U.S. customers and foreign customers that do business in the United States."
Analyst Katrina Blecher of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in New York said Bank One's decisions make sense.
"These are businesses that Banc One has found profitable in the past," she said. "First Chicago's operations were more volatile and went through some difficult periods."
In contrast to the cutbacks in trading for its own account overseas, the Chicago-based banking company said it plans to beef up its international foreign exchange, trade, treasury, and corporate finance services for U.S. corporate customers and foreign companies with operations in the United States.
As part of that buildup, Bank One will expand trade finance services in Hong Kong, strengthen its asset-backed financing team in London, and assign international specialists to its middle-market corporate offices in 20 U.S. cities.
Of the two merged banks, First Chicago NBD had the larger overseas network, with 11 offices in 10 countries as well as a long established presence in wholesale and capital markets.
Banc One began an international buildup only within the last several years. Its operation focused mainly on cash management, funds transfers, and trade finance.
Bank One reorganized its commercial bank last month, naming Mr. Vitale overall head of commercial banking and investment management.
Under Mr. Vitale, Susan Moody was given responsibility for commercial banking, and William G. "Jerry" Jurgensen was put in charge of products and international.
Barry Sabloff was named head of international, reporting to Mr. Jurgensen, while Darin Narayana, former head of Banc One International in Dallas, was put in charge of operations in the Americas and international marketing.
Mr. Vitale said Bank One's international unit will have about 600 people overseas after the reorganization, and several hundred more in the United States. Other overseas operations, including a joint venture in Hong Kong with Industrial Bank of Japan and Bank of China, and one with Japan's Tokio Marine insurance company in derivatives for the Asian market, remain unaffected.
Analysts said the restructuring accelerates a slow but steady withdrawal by the old First Chicago from commercial banking outside the United States that began in the 1980s.
"This means that they want much more focus in terms of the products and services they provide their customers," said Joseph Duwan, a banking analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. The downsizing moves are "evidence that they are moving toward the synergies that they have promised."