Corporate clients who have done business with Bankers Trust Corp. during the past year speak highly of the company's inventive, personal style of dealmaking.
But many of them say they are now concerned about how Deutsche Bank's $9 billion deal for Bankers Trust might change that.
This sentiment is coming from two types of client: the large corporations and leveraged buyout firms historically served by Bankers Trust and the middle-market companies served by Alex. Brown, the Baltimore securities firm BT bought in September 1997.
The early indication is that neither constituency will mind dealing with Deutsche Bank-as long as its policy toward Bankers Trust is hands-off.
"If they give free rein and autonomy, then it's great," said Stephen Berger, chairman of Odyssey Investment Partners LLC, a New York leveraged buyout firm. "The question is, Have they learned from several of their experiences ...? They have to see the value in what they're buying."
Mr. Berger said that, overall, Deutsche's deal for Bankers Trust is likely to be a plus. U.S. corporations are increasingly doing business overseas, so working with a big European bank would be appealing.
"There could be some benefits," said Robert Strawman, chief financial officer of Digital River Inc., an Eden Prairie, Minn., software company that tapped BT Alex. Brown to lead its initial public offering last summer.
About 30% of Digital River's revenues come from overseas, Mr. Strawman said. "Alex. Brown has a network of international sales offices, and they recently took us on a European road show. To the extent it expands their relationships, I think an Alex. Brown and Deutsche Bank can help us."
Greg Childress, chief financial officer of Tristar Aerospace Inc., a Dallas jet parts maker, agreed. BT Alex. Brown led Tristar's initial public offering this year.
"For patriotic reasons, I'd look at an American bank as keeping the money" in the United States, Mr. Childress said. "But it's really going to be a matter of what kinds of products and services they're offering."
Mr. Childress said TriStar might benefit from a connection to Deutsche Bank because more of its sales and manufacturing are overseas.
For larger corporate clients with complex needs-the kind long served by Bankers Trust's bond underwriting, foreign exchange, trading, and loan syndications businesses-the $692 billion-asset Deutsche Bank's deep pockets could also be a plus.
Still, corporate treasurers and chief financial officers say they wonder whether Deutsche Bank's management style will consume Bankers Trust. Deutsche's conservative and controlled approach to business is widely blamed for its failed attempts to expand London-based Morgan Grenfell into a major investment bank and to build its U.S. investment banking business with top talent hired from established firms.
One international banker pointed out that Deutsche Bank's corporate relationships "go back 100 years in Europe," a sign that it values loyalty and stability. By comparison, U.S. investment banking seems "excessive" with its risk-taking, transaction-oriented style, this banker said.
Odyssey's Mr. Berger said he believes Deutsche has "learned from its mistakes," and he said he has full confidence that Bankers Trust will be able to operate autonomously.
Odyssey is one of several LBO firms that rely on Bankers Trust as a buyout sponsor. Others include Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Hicks Muse Tate & Furst Inc.
Bankers Trust has relied more heavily on LBO sponsorships since scandals in its derivatives business scared off corporate customers in the mid- 1990s. The bank has built some new relationships in recent years, landing accounts such as Chancellor Broadcasting, RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp., and Huntsman Specialty Chemicals.
These are crucial to Bankers Trust's bottom line. In 1997, investment banking supplied 69%, or $857 million, of the company's pretax income. Corporate finance fees last year accounted for 29%, or $1.11 billion, of the $3.81 billion of noninterest revenue.
Robert E. Woods, head of loan syndications for the Americas at Societe Generale de Paris, said European banking companies, and especially German banks, tend to be more centralized than their U.S. counterparts.
But Mr. Woods said he could not recall any client refusing directly or indirectly to do business with a foreign bank.
"They know who they're dealing with," he said. "I've never had a problem."