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NatWest links with European banks

NATIONAL WESTMINSTER is to link up with two of the biggest banks on the Continent, Commerzbank of Germany and Societe Generale of France, to offer cross-border banking to medium-sized companies.

British customers of NatWest will be able to obtain local banking services when they start a business in France or Germany. In return, NatWest will take on customers of the other banks when they start businesses in the UK.

The service will include multilingual liaison desks at NatWest in London and at the headquarters of the other two banks. Benefits are expected to include straightforward access to local borrowing and streamlined account opening procedures.

In a second co-operation move the three banks are also to start a cross- border service early next year for small payments. This is designed to meet tough criticism from the European Commission of the high costs and long delays in the present arrangements for making small payments around Europe, by companies and individuals.

The objective is to simplify payments by introducing fully automated processing with a direct interface to each country's clearing system. NatWest said customers would have certainty over pricing and timing.

Bernard Horne, chief executive of international businesses at NatWest, said there was no grand design behind the links with Commerzbank and Societe Generale, and it was not an attempt to build a European club of banks.

However, there may be other projects to come. 'We may do something in a third country, but there is nothing on the drawing board at the moment,' he said.