CACEIS wants to be the dominant inserv provider in Europe. The RBC deal won’t deliver that, but it’s a start.
Some of you may be familiar with a Major League Baseball team called the Los Angeles Angels. That’s right: they are called (in translation) The Angels Angels. If the franchise paid anything to a branding consultant to come up with this name, they should ask for their money back.
It’s a similar story with CACEIS Investor Services. CACEIS is the acronym for Crédit Agricole – Caisse d’Epargne Investor Services. Tagging on an additional “Investor Services” doesn’t really make much sense.
But, until now, it just wasn’t an issue. Who cares how CACEIS brands itself, or even how you pronounce its name? But, with a relatively new CEO installed – and, at last, one who isn’t simply there as a pre-retirement sinecure – this has to be on the table (as do, at least, four other pressing issues).
Jean-Pierre Michalowski, who replaced Jean-François Abadie as CEO, has an impressive and relevant background. Prior to this appointment, he was senior country officer of Singapore at Crédit Agricole. In 2003, he joined the ExCo of Crédit Agricole Asset Management and became CEO of CAIS Fastnet. In 2005, he played a role in the creation of CACEIS, where he was CEO of CACEIS Fastnet, CEO of CACEIS Bank, and ultimately deputy CEO of CACEIS before moving to Singapore in 2017. He knows where the bodies are buried.
But…he also knows the potential. And he is very fortunate that I am going to give him some free advice on how to start unlocking that potential.
DITCH THE FROG
The easy part is to change the brand. Does anybody else wonder exactly what that frog has got to do with investor services? Even if it’s a playful allusion to a commonly used term to describe the French, it’s got to go. And, as for CACEIS itself, that name will never fly in the U.S. It never has, even after CACEIS appointed Annie Blouin from RBC to raise its profile and installed her in the Crédit Agricole office in New York between 2014 and 2016. She did her best.
EXPAND IN THE U.S.
The U.S. is going to be critical. If CACEIS has aspirations to be a European power player, it must build a meaningful franchise in the U.S. Fortunately, RBC has already done much of the legwork. Starting with Kevin O’Neill, who developed a strong platform in the U.S. for RBC Investor Services during his 10-year stint, the business has reeled in some very impressive names, including some of the largest institutional private equity and real estate investors. Even today, RBC has a strong U.S. presence under the leadership of David Giannone, who is global head of business development. CACEIS needs to build on that base and expand the team.
Beyond the opportunities in the private capital space, where both RBC and CACEIS have major Luxembourg franchises, one critical product area will be ETFs. Neither is a market leader in the sector. With all the ETF flows from the U.S., CACEIS cannot afford to have anything less than a compelling and competitive proposition. It tacitly acknowledged this when it hired Rob Rushe, one the industry’s most notable leaders, to spearhead its ETF business. He was there for less than one year before departing to join HSBC in 2022.
CACEIS will also need to re-evaluate its data & digital strategy. It is well off the pace, especially when compared to its European counterparts – HSBC, BNP Paribas and SGSS – all of which are doing very interesting work, especially in tokenisation. If it truly wants to be the dominant player in Europe, that must be a priority.
REFRESH THE TEAM
CACEIS has too many people who are simply not good enough to capitalise on the potential of the RBC deal. There needs to be a major cull, especially amongst the legacy management team from KAS, some of whom directly contributed to its downfall. If CACEIS wants to look and sound like a cross-border contender, it needs a more diverse pool of senior managers that have experience beyond the European markets. RBC will deliver several very accomplished people (although others have already chosen not to stay on), but CACEIS needs more.
REFINE THE M&A STRATEGY
In 2001, The Bank of New York took a 4.9pct stake in what was then known as KAS-Associatie. Even BNY, by far the most acquisitive of all the U.S. custody banks, didn’t want to acquire KAS BANK. In 2019, when CACEIS bought KAS for EUR188m, the rationale was unclear. It was the same with the 2009 purchase of HSBC’s custody, depositary and fund administration business lines in France. The deal delivered an additional 5pct in market share, and nothing in terms of product adjacencies. If Michalowski wants to do more deals – and that appears to be what he is telling RBC – he needs to have a much clearer-eyed view about what those deals deliver, other than market share, than his predecessors.
The essential question is this: is there room for CACEIS in what is already an oversupplied market? RBC, which was heavily reliant on its European offshore centres for growth, concluded that it was no longer relevant and, after some heavy client losses in both Ireland and Luxembourg, beat a retreat back to Canada. CACEIS can make it work – but it has to start thinking, and acting, more like its global competitors. That, as they say, will be tough sledding.