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Warburg in turmoil as eight more defect

The turmoil at SG Warburg, Britian's flagship investment bank, continued yesterday as eight more senior staff defected to rivals, following two top- level departures last week.

Managers at Warburg were trying to reassure staff this weekend as the exodus of top people continued in the wake of the aborted merger talks with Morgan Stanley. The shares fell 25p yesterday to 726p.

The bank denied strong City rumours that as many as 20 staff had left on Thursday and Friday. A spokesman said six executives from the equity capital markets department followed their former bosses, Maurice Thompson and Michael Cohrs, to Morgan Grenfell.

They included David Charters and Jeremy Bailey, both directors of Warburg Securities, and Adam Shutkever and Bruce Rigal, senior managers. Mr Rigal, speaking from his London home, said: "I cannot talk about the reasons for my departure."

At Deutsche Bank, owner of Morgan Grenfell, sources said the poaching was set to continue. "We have already said that we are not going to buy another bank and we are therefore trying to find good staff and will look wherever we think we can find them," said a senior executive in Frankfurt.

There were at least two other departures from Warburg this week, from the sterling bonds sales team. They went to BZW, and more sterling bond people are expected to move.

Last week's departures sent morale plunging at the 47-year-old bank. Although the numbers leaving this week were a tiny fraction of the bank's 5,500 employees, many were rising stars of the organisation who worked in the showcase department of the bank, selling its services to governments and corporations.

Last year the 30 members of the equity capital markets team led a marketing effort that brought in equity issues worth $4.1bn, including new issues and privatisations. "If those guys do not see a future for the bank, what on earth are the rest of the staff meant to think," asked one member of staff.

Many staff in the core research and equity sales departments were said to be looking forward to a bid from another bank which, they hoped, would end the atmosphere of uncertainty and provide a secure future for the bank.

Staff would favour JP Morgan, the blue-chip Wall Street firm that held talks with Warburg in 1993. Other names bandied about in the markets this week included Barclays Bank, HSBC and Dresdner.

The departures also raised concerns among analysts that the loss of personnel would lead to lasting damage to Warburg's reputation.

Although Warburg remains the City's flagship bank, it has a short history and, unlike competitors such as Lazards, Rothschilds and BZW, which enjoy deep-pocketed backers, it has a comparatively shallow capital base. It is therefore particularly reliant on its human resources, say analysts.

"It is very frightening for Warburg that, after the state of its franchise seemed unhurt by all the lousy figures and profit warnings last year, the break-up of its human resources is making it look increasingly fragile," said one London institutional analyst.