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Antwerp fights its corner

Only a few miles apart, the obvious differences between Antwerp and Brussels makes the journey feel longer. The two cities have always been competing with each other. Culture, language and power have been among the reasons that have separated the two. But in terms of finance, the situation of the Belgium market is affecting both in the same way.
Antwerp-based asset managers have also experienced the move to Euroland and, the same as for their colleagues in Brussels, their business is changing and growing. Firms like Delen, Smeets and Corluy are competing with the capital’s asset managers and they are doing well.
A good example of this increasing asset management activity in Antwerp is Banque Delen. The bank, whose main business is discretionary asset management, has experienced a substantial growth during the last few years, in part, following a series of mergers and acquisitions.
“In 1992 we became a subsidiary of Ackermans & Van Haaren, because we felt that a growing part of our clientele wanted us to improve our solvency before entrusting us a greater part of their assets,” says Guy Mattan, investment manager at Banque Delen in Antwerp. “This cooperation immediately meant that we had a shareholder behind us with quite a lot of capital. That’s when the growth began.” In 1994 they acquired Liege-based Banque de Schaetzen, which enabled Delen to obtain the ‘statut bancaire’ more rapidly.
“We started our discretional asset management activities – as they exist today – in the biginning of the 1990s and since then, we have been focused on discretionary asset management more and more,” Mattan says. Today, 20% of their clients are institutional and they expect this number to increase further.
“We are quite a small bank in the number of employees, but in terms of assets under management, over E5bn, it’s not a small bank anymore,” says Gregory Swolfs, also at Delen.
Banque Delen, as well as the other asset management firms based in Antwerp, is facing the same challenges as their colleagues. “The key to reaching these high levels of efficiency was all the development in the IT arena,” says Mattan. “When I stepped over from a (Brussels-based) bank, it was like coming from the middle ages to the 21st century.” Banque Delen has developed a sophisticated IT tool, which allows them to access all kind of data regarding individual accounts – very fast and with countinuous updates.
In terms of investment, their approach is very prudent. “We are not traders and we don’t have too much experience in the stock market. Our approach is a long term one, and we see ourselves more like shareholders looking for long term returns than like traders looking for short term profits,” says Mattan.
Delen is using passive management more and more and were among the first Belgian private bankers in offering socially responsible investing (SRI) services to Belgian pension funds. “We believe pension funds should consider SRI more, because it has very attractive risk and return characteristics, and also for the social character of pension fund assets,’ Mattan says.
“We think we can compete not only with the Belgian players based in Brussels, but also with some of the international firms. However, we are focused on the local market and so far we are not planning to move outside.”
Wim Van Lommel, relationship manager for pension funds at Bank Corluy Institutional Management comments: “In our marketing strategy, we do not tend to see Antwerp as a competitive advantage, and I think the market is rather neutral on this. However, traffic congestion makes it more easy to go into Antwerp than into Brussels!” Paula Garrido

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