AMSTERDAM Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) is dumping most of its accounts with small businesses in the Netherlands, reversing an expansion drive of recent years to cut losses and focus on big companies.
The decision follows a restructuring announced by Germany's biggest business lender in September, including job cuts and asset sales, as part of moves to meet tougher capital rules.
Many of the affected customers are one-person or family businesses, such as hairdressing salons, home-based online companies, cafes, and farms with typical annual turnover of less than 1 million euros.
A similar move by Deutsche to drop less wealthy clients in Germany a few years ago provoked uproar and complaints from clients who said they felt like "second-class" customers.
The attempt to push account holders into a separate affiliate was later reversed.
"In the next few months, we will contact the customers for whom Deutsche Bank Nederland NV is no longer the suitable bank to discuss the transfer to a different bank," Deutsche Bank said in a statement on Thursday.
The roughly 2,000 retail customers and 16,000 small businesses - or about 70 percent of its total customers in the Netherlands - are former ABN AMRO ABNNV.UL clients who were transferred to Deutsche Bank when it bought some ABN operations in 2010, and do not generate profit for the bank.
Deutsche said it did not plan to take similar steps in other countries.
ABN AMRO, which was nationalized during the 2008 financial crisis, said it would be happy to take back any customers.
"These customers are more than welcome to come back to us...we have a very good concept for handling their needs," said an ABN Amro spokesman.
Deutsche Bank's plans, first mooted several weeks ago, have prompted a debate over whether small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - regarded as the backbone of the Dutch economy - have enough funding options.
"The withdrawal of Deutsche Bank reduces the number of suppliers for agricultural finance and leads to a further concentration of the market," Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, an agricultural economist by background, told parliament in a letter in February.
"In terms of competition it would be desirable to have an increase in the number of providers."
About 5,000 former ABN AMRO clients, which are mid-sized to larger companies, as well as Deutsche Bank's wholesale clients are not affected.
(Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger and Sara Webb; Additional reporting by Alexander Huebner in Frankfurt; Editing by David Cowell)