Bloomberg News

FRANKFURT - Deutsche Bank AG, Europe's biggest bank by asset value, may consider a stock sale for its on-line brokerage once it has found partners for its retail bank unit, board member Tessen von Hedyebreck said in an interview.

The on-line brokerage, part of the retail unit Deutsche Bank 24, is aiming for 250,000 customers by yearend. It may be worth about $3.86 billion if it hits that goal. "An initial offering for the direct brokerage would be an option that would sell itself beautifully," Mr. von Heydebreck said. "We've yet refrained from such a move, because we want to form alliances first." The on-line broker "is a big deal for some of the people we're talking to," he said.

Deutsche Bank is one of a host of German banks that started building on-line brokerages in the 1990s to exploit growth in Internet trading. HypoVereinsbank AG sold shares in its brokerage in 1999, cashing in on investors' appetite for technology stocks.

Shares in HypoVereinsbank unit Direkt Anlage Bank AG and ConSors Discount Broker AG have grown threefold since they started trading on the Neuer Markt in 1999.

"There's no date, no concrete intention" for a listing, Mr. von Heydebreck said. "The priority is on forming partnerships. That's what everything hangs on."

Four-year-old Brokerage 24 has 140,000 customers, lagging rivals such as ConSors Discount Broker AG and Commerzbank AG unit Comdirect Bank AG. Deutsche Bank 24 chief executive Herbert Walter said this week that the brokerage is worth about $15,000 per client.

The Frankfurt-based bank on Monday announced a linkup with AOL Europe, the on-line venture of Bertelsmann AG and AOL Online Inc., that it believes will boost its brokerage's client total to 400,000 by the end of 2001.

On-line brokers in Germany have seen business boosted by a surge in stock ownership. The number of Germans directly owning stock topped 5 million for the first time last year, after hitting 4.5 million in 1998, according to figures from the German share institute.

Direkt Anlage Bank shares have risen to about $42 since it sold shares at about $12.50 in November. ConSors, Europe's second-biggest on-line broker, has soared to about $100 from an issue price of $33, giving it a market value of about $4.5 billion euros.

Commerzbank AG, Germany's fifth-biggest bank, plans an initial public offering for its Comdirect Bank AG unit in 2000.

Dresdner Bank AG is expanding the Internet service offered by its Advance Bank direct bank as it readies the unit for a share sale before 2002. ?

"E-commerce is making equals of the big and small. Over time, the winner will be the one who has the superior brand. The smaller ones will disappear through mergers or simply give up," Mr. von Heydebreck said.

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