Evolution in exclusive talks to buy Williams de Broë for £30m

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The Independent Online

The investment bank Evolution Group is in exclusive talks to buy the troubled stockbroker Williams de Broë from its Dutch parent ING.

Evolution, led by chief executive Alex Snow, is believed to have offered almost £30m to trump five other interested parties. These included Macquarie, the acquisitive Australian investment bank that tried to buy the London Stock Exchange, and the broker Seymour Pierce backed by Jon Moulton's private equity group Alchemy Partners.

Iceland's Kaupthing, which owns the Singer & Friedlander merchant bank, is also believed to have been among those to pick over Williams de Broë's accounts.

An offer of only about £5m from the 137-year-old broker's management, backed by private equity, was said to have been given short shrift by ING.

Macquarie was interested only in Williams de Broë's investment banking arm, not its private client funds management operation, but ING did not want to sell the business piecemeal. Evolution owns the Christows private client business, which manages the finances of the wealthy. This would be merged with Williams de Broë's private client arm, which is widely seen as the jewel in its crown, doubling funds under management to almost £2bn.

Williams de Broë is also stronger on bigger companies, which it researches, than Evolution, a specialist in small and medium firms. It has fixed income, banking and insurance teams, which Evolution does not.

The investment bank, which was sitting on £138m cash at the end of last year, will continue to delve into Williams de Broë's books.

Any deal remains subject to regulatory approval and is unlikely to be finalised for a couple of months.

With about 250 employees, Williams de Broë is widely seen as overstaffed. Steep job losses are certain should Evolution, which has about 150 staff, assume control. ING is understood to have agreed to foot the bill for restructuring costs at Williams de Broë and underwrite any potential regulatory costs arising from past problems.

Last year, ING was forced to set aside £56m against a black hole in Williams de Broë's accounts. The accountancy firm Deloitte was called in to investigate and Williams de Broë's chief executive John Miller and its chief operating officer David Whistance were suspended.

Richard Charnock, a former executive at Lloyds TSB bank and head of private client investment at the broker, took charge.

Since then, a rash of key staff has left, including the head of corporate finance and Nick Sperring, its head of institutional sales. Mr Sperring's replacement, Adrian Barwick, resigned in March.

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