Fleming reshuffles to give Asia operations a boost

ROBERT FLEMING, one of the City's last independently owned investment banks is today announcing a new management structure which will give a bigger role to the bank's Asian operations but may also put a question mark over the future of Save & Prosper, its pounds 6bn retail unit trust operation.

The business, which is headed by the former chief executive of the Personal Investment Authority, Colette Bowe, is to be partially sidelined in the management reshuffle in a move which, some say, may pave the way for the eventual sale of the business.

The bank told potential buyers as recently as last September that the Save & Prosper business was not up for sale. However, the recent takeover of M&G, the unit trust group, by the Prudential - at what was seen in the City as a very high price - is believed to have reopened the internal debate within Fleming about whether the bank should now put the business up for sale.

The Pru was one of the groups that expressed interest in buying the brand. Investment banking sources say that a number of banks and former building societies also made approaches over the past twelve months but were rebuffed.

Following last December's deal to buy out Jardine, Robert Fleming's partner in Jardine Fleming, the Hong Kong investment bank, William Garrett, the chief executive of Robert Fleming, is keen to demonstrate that the bank has a strong platform for developing the bank's corporate finance business in Asia.

Although some within the bank are still pressuring for the bank as a whole to be put up for sale, on a longer term view Asia would offer huge potential for the bank.

However, there is a debate within the firm about whether it can continue funding the expansion of the investment bank and invest enough in the retail business to remain competitive at a time when the savings market is on the brink of fundamental change.