NatWest elbows way on to crowded floor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 May, 1994, 12:00am


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JUST when the floor seemed to be getting overcrowded, here comes another couple to dig their elbows into the established dancers.

Much could be made of the opportunistic aspects of the partnership between Wheelock and National Westminster Bank, but the decision to go ahead despite the uncertainty about the immediate direction of the market, the fall-off in turnover and the apparent waning international interest in the China story, implies that long-term strategic planning has been put before a wish to make short-term gains.

For National Westminster, it is a smart move, but not one without risk. Going solo and re-entering the market which it prematurely turned its back on only 31/2 years ago would have been hard and expensive. Whoever drew the short straw to run the operation would have felt constantly at the mercy of forces in London examining quarterly returns for signs of weakness.

As an autonomous unit, with a local partner, the initiative lies this side of the world.

At the same time, Wheelock does not have a substantial track record as a player in financial markets, although Nicholas Sibley's recent arrival has added some valuable talent.

If anyone can understand the mind of British bankers when confronted with Asian stockbroking it should be Mr Sibley, who spent valuable time with Barclays de Zoete Wedd.

But NatWest is bringing a great deal to the party, while having to rely on Wheelock to introduce it to the right sort of guests and projects to make it go with a swing.

What it can provide in China is obviously going to be valuable, but the planned geographical coverage of the joint venture is nothing if not ambitious, stretching from Japan to Indonesia and Vietnam to South Korea. In this spread, the new team in the joint venture is going to have to make its own maps.

If there is a precedent for the successful linking of a British-style broking house with a local, well-connected group, it is Peregrine. Its astonishing rate of growth will not have been unobserved by those in Wheelock House or the NatWest Tower.

Now they need to find the right calibre of CEO to successfully lead the quickstep.