He isn't a corporate executive or even a flamboyant investment banker, but Joe Sasso figures things haven't been going well with
pending acquisition of
"People are on the edge of their seats," Sasso says. "They are nervous about having jobs."
Sasso, who owns the
barbershop on the Bankers Trust building's ground floor in downtown Manhattan, has developed an unscientific barometer on the Deutsche/BT deal.
"When a lot of the top people come in from upstairs for a trim on the same day, I know something big is happening," he says during a cigarette break in front of the building. "But they haven't been in lately."
The lack of action upstairs may indicate a problem. For many employees at Bankers Trust and its investment banking subsidiary
BT Alex. Brown
, the only news lately has run from bad -- like BT's guilty plea to felony charges of falsifying bank records and subsequent $60 million fine last week -- to worse, like the revelations last month that Deutsche Bank helped finance the building of Auschwitz.
On Thursday, BT's employees may find out whether Joe the Barber's hunch is right. That's when Deutsche's chief executive, Rolf Breuer, plans to underscore the reasons behind the merger in a press conference at Deutsche's annual meeting in Frankfurt, several BT insiders say. "I think he is going to use the meeting to detail a vision for the combined bank going forward," says one BT Alex. Brown investment banker, requesting anonymity.
This week, BT sent out an internal memo to employees announcing the Deutsche press conference (which is set for 4:30
EST Thursday). No details of what might be said at the press conference or annual meeting were included in the memo. Spokeswomen from both banks declined to comment.
"Like every merger, I think there is uncertainty until it closes," says David Berry, director of research at
Keefe Bruyette & Woods
, which hasn't performed underwriting for Bankers Trust. The perceived murkiness of the Deutsche/BT deal has been compounded by the fact that it's unclear when the deal will close, Berry says. The deal was originally slated to close in May, but some insiders say that could be pushed back.
However, any news about the merger, how it will work and who will be affected would be welcome, say several BT insiders.
"I think there is a concern that things have not been articulated to employees and the public about this merger," says the banker. He admits there has been some uncertainty within the bank, a situation not helped by some recent key defections in the investment banking and corporate lending units.
The most recent group of defectors include 10 investment bankers who left Deutsche's M&A team in Europe earlier this week to join
. The European investment banking unit has lost several other key figures, including the group that represented Deutsche in advising
during its purchase of
On this side of the Atlantic, there are problems, too. Bruce Brandaleone, head of equity sales and trading at BT Alex. Brown in Baltimore, left the firm recently. In addition, BT Alex. Brown has lost several professionals from its research and trading units.
"It's fair to say things haven't been addressed and people are concerned," says a BT Alex. Brown broker, who also requested anonymity. The main thing that Deutsche needs to outline is a timeline for the merger, including which units will be integrated and when, he says. "I mean, the merger is supposed to close, like, next month or something and we don't know anything."
Still, for those BT Alex. Brown employees who have been working through the merger in a fog of uncertainty, anything is better than nothing. "As long as I got a job when this all shakes out, that's all I care about," says a BT Alex. Brown trader.
Approximately 5,500 jobs, mostly in New York and London, will be cut in the merger, the banks have said. Currently, the combined banks have more than 90,000 employees.
If Deutsche's Breuer addresses the integration issue, his comments won't mark the first time BT and Deutsche have had to work fast to squelch bad feelings. When the deal was announced, Breuer said he didn't believe in "autonomy as an instrument of management." BT Chairman Frank Newman tried publicly to defend Deutsche's plans to control operations. But the incident further damaged the already battered independent spirit of the former Alex. Brown & Sons that was dealt its first blow when the firm was acquired by Bankers Trust in 1997.
"That was absolutely the worst thing he could have said," says one former Deutsche investment banker, requesting anonymity. "When an investment banker who views himself as an entrepreneur hears that, he's gone."
Oddly, when Deutsche tried to enforce a top-down management strategy during its previous foray into U.S. investment banking, it was considered a failure. In the mid-1990s, Deutsche hired several high-profile investment banking pros, including technology uber-banker Frank Quattrone, but was unable to build a franchise. Within three years, the German parent lost its patience and ended its efforts to get a foothold in the U.S. equity market by building its own presence.
Back in front of the BT building, Sasso, the barber, has his own worries. When things are going badly for BT, it goes badly for him, too. His business has dropped off in recent months, due mostly to people leaving the bank. "A lot of people have already left," he says. "And the ones that are here are wary about everyone else leaving."