Travelling the business line

Charles Cock has ridden the two-decade wave of industry acquisitions by treating barriers as opportunities
By Editorial
Charles Cock

Charles Cock has ridden the two-decade wave of industry acquisitions by treating barriers as opportunities

For the past 20 years, Charles Cock, has been directly associated with BNP Paribas’ growing profile in the securities services industry. More grizzled journalists and industry participants will, however, remember him from his days running J.P. Morgan’s custody and clearing business in France when BNP and Banque Paribas were two separate and competing providers.

Since then, he has been a prominent figure both in the institutions he has represented as they have changed ownership and structure and in the broader industry debates that have driven the global business forward.

Cock currently serves as co-head of client development at BNP Paribas Securities Services with responsibility for the client development teams across the bank’s 34 locations around the world. He is also a senior member of BNP Paribas Securities Services’ executive committee. In January 2015, Cock takes on a new senior role as vice-chairman—international, focusing on key customer relationships.

Cock began his career in finance in 1978 in the Brussels office of J.P. Morgan. He spent several years in sales and banking at the Euroclear Operations Centre. “I joined at a time when this was a small enterprise in the way Cedel in Luxembourg was a small enterprise. We were only involved with Eurobonds then,” he remembers. This was followed by a three year period with J.P. Morgan Securities Switzerland in Zurich as head of capital markets sales.

In 1989 he moved back to J.P. Morgan Brussels to take responsibility for its securities services in Europe. “That appointment was ground-breaking, because it was the first time a bank changed its organizational structure from geographical management to business line management,” Cock says. “Today, no one would imagine you could do any different, but that move to business line management allowed us to take some important decisions.”

Among these was a move to start a securities services business in Italy, which did not necessarily reflect the will of the general management in Italy at the time. “Now that particular business has 500 people on the ground, “ says Cock. In 1989, the decision was taken to expand the business to Spain, overriding the common wisdom of the time. “That was really the start of pan-European vision,” says Cock, part of which involved a move away from mono-line segments and mono products. “We recognized that those providers who are mono-market and mono-segment would sooner or later disappear, though it’s taken longer that we expected to come true,” he says.

Cock was promoted to managing director in 1991 and joined Paribas in Paris in 1995 at the time of the sale by J.P. Morgan of its European clearing and custody network to Paribas. From 1995 until 2004, he headed the Multi-Direct Clearing and Custody (MDCC) business line within BNP Paribas Securities Services and shared oversight responsibility of the company’s territories.

“When I joined Paribas, I was given more responsibility to run and grow the business than I had at J.P. Morgan, though we were starting from a relatively small base,” he says. Since then, the bank’s securities services business has grown from 600 staff in six markets to 10,000 people in 34 markets, embracing all client segments apart from retail.

“When Paribas acquired the business, they were very experienced with sub-custody clients, but the operation was small by any measure,” says Cock. The acquisition was attractive to different senior executives in the bank for different reasons. “The number two in the bank who wrote the check said he wanted to be in control of the pipes. We were bringing him the pipes in one go in five major capital markets,” he recalls. “Meanwhile, the COO of the bank said he wanted to acquire 300 young Europeans with an Anglo-Saxon culture who had taken the decision to work for an international bank with a common culture, working in English and comfortable beyond their own home market.”

“Culturally, we have been punching above our weight,” says Cock of that original cohort. “If you look at the bank today, everything happens in English between branches in different countries. Of the 300 staff members that joined the bank at the time of the acquisition, there were 298 still there after a year still 280 three years later. Even today over half are still with us,” he says.

–Richard Schwartz