|Headquarters||Brussels, Belgium; Utrecht, Netherlands|
|Key People||CEO Jean-Paul Votron, Chairman Maurice Lippens|
|Products||Retail and commercial banking, investment and insurance products|
Fortis is a Dutch-Belgian bank that grew aggressively through acquisitions over the past two decades but ran into problems after its purchase late in 2007 of one-third of the Dutch bank ABN Amro. In October of 2008, facing a solvency crisis Fortis' Dutch holdings were nationalized by the Netherlands and 75% of the bank's Belgium and Luxembourg assets were sold to BNP Paribas.
Initially, the Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg governments partly nationalised Fortis amid uncertainty about its ability to sell some of the assets in ABN AMRO. Those three countries, where Fortis has its main businesses, also shored up Fortis's balance sheet by investing €11.2 billion ($16.2 billion) of capital in the respective Fortis banks in each country.
Fortis was formed in 1990 through a merger between Dutch bank VSB, Dutch insurer N.V. AMEV and Belgian insurer AG Group. Since then Fortis's acquisitions have included Spanish bank la Caixa, Dutch merchant bank MeesPierson and U.S. insurer American Bankers Insurance Group, and the bank has also expanded in Asia through a series of joint ventures.
By year-end 2007 Fortis had €445 billion in assets under management and annual income of €120.5 billion, up from the 2006 figure of €96.6 billion. However, the bank's return on equity fell from 22% in 2006 to 17% in 2007 while net profit dropped from €4.35 billion to €3.99 billion and earnings per share (EPS) fell from €3.4 to €2.3 over the same period. Globally, Fortis ranks 20th by revenues and 22nd by total assets but only 80th by profit.
In October 2007 Fortis paid €24 billion ($37 billion) for a one-third share of former Dutch financial-services global giant ABN Amro in a€72 billion deal with fellow-buyers Banco Santander of Spain and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). That acquisition was quickly followed by the meltdown of the U.S. subprime mortgage market, which hammered many European banks including RBS and Fortis.
Shares in Fortis dropped almost 19% on June 26, 2008 after the bank revealed it was seeking a capital infusion from shareholders of more than €8 billion (US$12.6 billion) due to the mortgage mess and the ABN Amro buy. Fortis plans to raise €1.5 billion by issuing new shares and save another €1.3 billion by scrapping its interim dividend, with the additional €5.5 billion coming from asset sales and issuing 'non-dilutive capital instruments'. In Q1 2008 Fortis booked writedowns of €380 million from failed investments in U.S. mortgage-backed securities.
Key People has been in the top job since October 2004, when he took over from former CEO Anton van Rossum. Votron began his business career at Dutch consumer-products giant Unilever and joined Citibank in 1991, where he served in several executive positions. He was senior executive vice-president at ABN Amro from 1997 to 2001 before rejoining Citigroup as CEO of retail banking for Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. Votron made BusinessWeek magazine's Europe BW 50 list of the continent's leading business executives in 2005, at a time when Fortis's profit and share price had resently risen more than 25% year-on-year. On taking over as Fortis CEO, Votron promised to expand the ban's operations across 25 European countries stretching from Ireland to Turkey. He recently defended Fortis's decision to buy ABN Amro for significantly increasing its client base and branch network.