ABN Amro's decision to reorganize its global operations along business lines means the company, which in the United States owns LaSalle Bank, European American Bank, and Standard Federal Bank, will soon decide whether it wants to add to its American holdings.
The Dutch holding company has mentioned U.S. expansion plans from time to time, but over the last few years it has been concerned mainly with gaining market share within a single-currency Europe and picking up bargain deals in Latin America. In 1998 it acquired Banco Real, Brazil.
The exceptions have been two U.S. acquisitions that boosted the banking company's mortgage originating and servicing portfolio: In 1997 it bought Standard Federal Bank of Troy, Mich., and in November it said it had agreed to buy Atlantic Mortgage and Investment Corp., which administers a $20 billion portfolio.
The banking company on Tuesday identified the United States, along with its home country and Brazil, as areas where it already has a sustainable market position and will attempt further retail banking investments.
"We will follow the consolidation game" in Brazil and the U.S., said ABN Amro chairman Rijkman Groenink in a teleconference Tuesday, "and our ambition is to stay in the game."
Amid a long list of senior management changes, the company announced a new head of retail sales for the Americas, including the U.S. component, and the "rest of the world" outside of Europe. Floris Deckers, who at the beginning of April moved from his position as chief executive officer for Latin America and the Caribbean to chief executive of the Asia Pacific region, based in Singapore, will now run non-European retail from Amsterdam.
The new position does not indicate other senior management changes in the United States will follow, said Tanno Massar, a spokesman for the company in Amsterdam.
Analysts said senior management support may be needed for the company to move on one of the U.S. regional deals it is said to be eyeing.
"I think right now they're getting ready for something," said Evangelos Kavouriadis, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
The reorganization is intended to align the products and services of the nearly $500 billion-asset company into three "largely autonomous" business units - wholesale, retail, and private clients and asset management. While ABN Amro provides a variety of services in the United States, including corporate lending and asset management, its biggest push has been on the retail front with subsidiaries in the Midwest and Northeast.
LaSalle, for instance, is the second-largest bank in metro Chicago, with $44 billion in assets, and is generally viewed as a steady performer. ABN Amro is now the largest share- holder of Uniondale, N.Y.-based European American Bank, with $14.6 billion in assets and 96 branches in metro New York.
Retail expansion plans are only in preliminary stages, however.
Over the next several months the business units that have just been put in place will work out growth plans, such as by alliance, acquisition or organically, Mr. Massar said. They will then report back to the managing board, which will decide where to allocate resources for acquisition activities. "It's a top-down process," he said.
Tuesday's announcement also indicated that ABN Amro would move to reinvigorate its managing board structure by adding "non-Dutch know-how." It proceeded to appoint, among others, Hugh Scott-Barrett, a senior executive vice president for corporate and structured finance and a United Kingdom native based in London, to the board.
"It's a good signal that they're saying 'Hey, we're global,' " said Mr. Kavouriadis.
ABN Amro's name has surfaced in speculation over the merger possibilities for a variety of U.S. banks. Reports in the Minnesota press have speculated on the possibility of talks with U.S. Bancorp, and analysts have said the Dutch banking company is considered a possible buyer of Michigan National Corp. - a company owned by National Australia Bank Ltd.
Within the last month ABN Amro was said to be thinking about making an offer for Dime Bancorp in New York, but executives have said the company does not plan a bid for Dime.