Integrating mergers was a major focus of discussion during last week's gathering of about 100 top international bankers at the International Monetary Conference here.
During a panel discussion Monday, bankers said combinations of investment and commercial banks are getting easier to accomplish as the two industries become more alike and cultural clashes abate.
"It's easier to imagine a merger between a commercial and investment bank today," said Rainer E. Gut, chairman of Credit Suisse Group. The Zurich banking company was a pioneer of cross-industry mergers with its 1988 acquisition of New York investment bank First Boston Corp.
"Culture clashes are still there," Mr. Gut said of such unions. "But there is not as great a difference as 10 or 15 years ago."
Mr. Gut's fellow panelists included Rolf E. Breuer, chairman of Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, who just completed his $9 billion acquisition of another U.S. investment bank, Bankers Trust Corp.
Bankers Trust was itself a hybrid of the 96-year-old commercial bank plus the investment banks Alex. Brown of Baltimore, which it bought in 1997, and Natwest Markets in Europe, which it bought in 1998.
Panelists said recent mergers of investment and commercial banks have benefited from sometimes painful lessons.
"The real difference between these mergers now and back then was that the banks don't go into it unprepared," said Patrick Gillam, chairman of London-based Standard Chartered Bank.
Cultural issues need to be managed by the top executives on down, bankers said.
"There is skepticism of mergers of this size," said Verne G. Istock, chairman of Bank One Corp., which was created in last year's merger of Columbus-based Bank One and First Chicago NBD Corp.
"Some have gone very well, but there are some bodies along the highway."
Mr. Istock said bank mergers have run into trouble because managers have not addressed personnel issues swiftly, creating distractions that prevent integrations from getting done within a reasonable time.
In an interview, Henrique de Campos Meirelles, president of BankBoston Corp., said his bank has already run into culture clashes with staff at Fleet Financial Group.
The two Boston banks agreed in March to a $16 billion combination. The deal is slated to close in the fourth quarter, upon regulatory approval. Massachusetts banking regulators have scheduled a public hearing on the merger for July 13 in Boston.
BankBoston would bring Fleet operations in Latin America and a San Francisco-based investment banking boutique, Robertson Stephens. Fleet would strengthen BankBoston's retail base in New England and its commercial banking on the East Coast.
Mr. Meirelles said the cultural differences "have been very healthy."
Mr. Meirelles, who was seen at the conference conversing in the hallway with Fleet counterpart Robert J. Higgins, said the two are getting along well.
Mr. Breuer said asset size was not the driving factor in his decision to acquire Bankers Trust, though the deal made Deutsche Bank the world's largest bank, with $821 billion of assets.
"There is a risk with size," Mr. Breuer said at a press conference Monday. "You can become a big elephant that moves very slowly."
Mr. Breuer said Deutsche Bank would reduce its risk-weighted assets over time, focusing on originating credit and then securitizing it. It was the same idea endorsed by some bankers during a panel discussion on the credit business Tuesday.
"We have changed our policy," Mr. Breuer told reporters. "We are not interested in volume anymore; we are interested in profits."