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Western Europe: Banking American-Style

3 minute read

Visiting Europe two months ago, Chase Manhattan Bank President David Rockefeller participated in both a major discussion and a minor decision. In Brussels, he took part in negotiations leading toward part ownership of Belgium’s Bank du Commerce by the Chase. In Paris, he ordered a $300,000 face-lifting for the Chase’s 55-year-old branch on the Rue Cambon. “We’ll look like the ’60s instead of the ’30s,” exulted Paris General Manager Edouard Eller after his boss had left. “French customers will like that. It’s the American image.”

The American image is obvious in such European banking centers as Frankfurt, Antwerp, Zurich, Geneva and Milan. The Chase, New York’s First National City Bank, the Morgan Guaranty Trust Co, and California’s Bank of America led the way. The movement has grown so strong that such banks as Chicago’s Continental Illinois and Boston’s First National are also opening European branches or buying into European banks. U.S. branches are now scattered across the Continent; seven opened last year alone.

More Pan than the Europeans. American bankers moved strongly abroad in the wake of U.S. corporations that were establishing Common Market operations. The banks came along to handle financing for old customers, as well as such routine stateside services as company payrolls and pension funds. With branches spread through the Common Market, they discovered they were more Pan-European than the Europeans, solicited European business as well as American.

One argument U.S. bankers could make was that they were more progressive and flexible than European competitors. Following long tradition, European banks are capricious with commercial loans, often tend to favor companies in which they hold stock interests. U.S. bankers generally provided faster service and better terms. For European companies interested in international trade, American bankers also offered the advantage of worldwide branches, faster interchange Of capital and more exact credit ratings on overseas customers. The argument has been persuasive. France’s government-owned Renault, establishing an automobile-assembly plant in Buenos Aires, turned to Bank of America to handle the financial transaction.

Even Credit Cards. American banks have also introduced European businessmen to such U.S. banking practices as factoring and leasing, and are wooing smaller customers for the first time. Italy’s Banca d’America e d’ltalia, which is controlled by Bank of America, last summer opened Italy’s first bank consumer-credit service, provides loans of from $165 to $1,600 at a discounted 6% interest rate instead of the 30% to 100% interest that Italian loan sharks demand.

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