BHF Crisis

Hostile Bid Leaves Bank in Turmoil

BHF bank imago
When two parties quarrel, a third suffers - in this case, it's BHF Bank.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Frankfurt-based BHF-Bank, once the largest private bank in Germany, faces heavy damage from a drawn-out takeover battle between its holding company and a Chinese investor.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germany’s BHF-Bank dates back to 1884 and rose to prominence in the 1970s, dealing mostly with wealthy private clients.
    • BHF Bank has had four owners in the past 15 years, including the Dutch bank ING, German banks Sal. Oppenheim and Deutsche Bank.
    • Chinese investor Fosun is now trying to wrest control of the bank from its latest owner, RHJ International, which acquired a majority stake in 2014.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The German banking world has never seen anything quite like it. Over the past few weeks, a genuine, honest-to-goodness hostile takeover battle is keeping the industry on the edge of its seat.

The object of contention is BHF-Bank, a private bank that was once one of the country’s largest. What had started as a bit of light summer entertainment, starring the long-standing Frankfurt-based banking institution, has developed into a veritable drama.

At the center of the months-long standoff is the Fosun, a Chinese investor that has been busy targeting firms across Europe this summer. Fosun is trying to wrest control of BHF-Bank from its parent holding company, BHF Kleinwort Benson.

The struggle has proven to be a severe test of endurance for BHF-Bank, and this at a time when the institution was just getting back on its feet after years of uncertainty over its leadership after suffering four different owners in the past 15 years.

“We have already gone through a lot, but it has never been this bad,” said one insider at the bank.

Anxious customers are threatening to pull out of the bank, while employees are complaining bitterly that the battle is tearing the bank internally apart. Headhunters are making the rounds, hoping to lure away the bank’s best customer consultants with job offers.

“There is a systematic attempt to lure away BHF’s best customer service advisors,” said one Frankfurt-based personnel consultant.

As if their weren’t enough twists and turns in this summer tragedy, a third player has emerged of late. Oddo & Cie, a Parisian bank and already a major shareholder, is considering a counter-takeover offer for the troubled bank.

Insiders worry it may all be too late. “If the dispute doesn’t end soon, then at some point there might not be much left worth fighting over,” said one gloomy banker at BHF-Bank.

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