November 12, 2018 / 6:49 PM / a month ago

Rabobank explores sale of U.S. retail, wealth operations: sources

The Rabobank logo is seen at the entrance of its headquarters in Utrecht, Netherlands August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

(Reuters) - Dutch cooperative lender Rabobank is exploring the sale of its retail and wealth management operations in the United States in a deal that could top $1 billion, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The move shows how Rabobank is pressing on with efforts to restructure itself. It announced two years ago it would shed 9,000 jobs, a fifth of its workforce, and said it would reduce its balance sheet by 150 billion euros ($170 billion) by 2020 as part of a five-year strategic plan.

The sources said that the business up for sale is part of Rabobank N.A., the California-based unit of the bank, which provides retail and wealth management services, as well as commercial financing, through a network of more than 100 branches.

Rabobank N.A. held total assets worth $13.5 billion as of June 30, according to the Federal Reserve. No breakdown exists for the assets of the retail and wealth operations that are up for sale.

The sources asked not to be identified because the sale process is confidential. Rabobank declined to comment.

Rabobank also considered a sale of the U.S. retail and wealth operations in 2014 but it was never pursued. It was later revealed the U.S. Department of Justice had been conducting an investigation at that time into the bank handling illicit payments.

The probe ended this year, with Rabobank agreeing to pay over $368 million for processing funds likely tied to drug trafficking and other illicit activity, and pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to obstruct regulatory oversight.

Rabobank N.A.’s franchise is likely to be attractive to large regional banks from the Western United States, according to the sources. Rural banks are seen as valuable targets for urban-centric lenders, as they provide significant deposits which can be used to fuel loan growth in cities.

Rabobank reported a 12 percent rise in first-half net profit to 1.7 billion euros ($1.94 billion) in August, helped by cost-cutting and strong economic growth in the Netherlands.

Reporting by David French in New York, Michelle Price in Washington DC and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt; Editing by Tom Brown

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