Amsterdam postcode, attractive prospects

When speaking to I amsterdam, Masao Hasegawa, then General Manager of the Dutch arm of MUFG Bank Europe, noted with evident satisfaction that more and more Japanese companies have been finding their way to the Dutch capital. Many smaller and medium-sized Japanese companies are seeing interesting opportunities for growth in the European market, and they are calling on the Amsterdam branch of the bank to help them structure their investments.

Japanese businesses flock to the Amsterdam Area

At the same time, the pioneers of the first wave – including global brands like Canon, Nikon and Ricoh – have all completed refits of their European networks, and Amsterdam is a strikingly popular choice for the location of the new head offices for their pan-European activities. “There is a completely new dynamic here,” says Hasegawa in his executive office in the heart of Zuidas, one of Amsterdam’s main business districts. “More and more Japanese companies are concentrated around Amsterdam and directing and consolidating their other European activities from here. That demands a completely different market approach from us. We still offer a full-service package in the field of commercial banking, but the emphasis has moved to cash management and trust management. These are the services that our customers, who are currently mainly holding companies, really need.”

Photography: Philippe Vogelenzang

A multilingual and open-minded workforce

When asked what makes Amsterdam so attractive to Japanese companies, Hasegawa describes the “neutralising” effect of a Dutch base with respect, for example, to German and French-speaking consumer markets. “The cultural barriers are less high, and you get things done more easily than in other countries. Above all, our Dutch employees speak both languages, and naturally that helps too. Moreover, English is the operating language in this office, and that is a second language for many Dutch people.” 

Pragmatic regulators and a central location

Also, the transparent organisation of the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) represents an important advantage for financial parties. The national bankers use a principle-based approach when deciding who qualifies for an EU banking permit, explains Hasegawa: “If you can show that you have a good track record, and your internal systems of control meet the necessary requirements, then the procedure can be wound up very quickly,” he says.

Additionally, Hasegawa stresses the proximity of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol as an important location factor. “That goes increasingly for air cargo, too. Nowadays, time efficiency weighs so heavily that lots of capital goods may also be transported to Europe by plane,” he says.

Cherry blossom in the Amsterdamse Bos

A great work-life balance for the active Japanese community

Perhaps remarkably given the Japanese reputation for long working hours – he also mentions the fact that the work-life balance is better in Amsterdam. “I have worked in New York before here, but nowhere have I found a working and living environment that is so relaxed and comfortable. I’m still surprised every day at how rural Amsterdam is, actually. In a quarter of an hour, you are outside the city and in the middle of nature.”

That advantage is also recognised by other members of the Japanese community, especially those living in the Amstelveen area. Alongside Düsseldorf in Germany, they form the biggest group of Japanese expats living in continental Europe, and with the present rate of growth, the already considerable range of Japanese stores, restaurants and other facilities will only become more attractive.

Parallel histories

The history of MUFG in Amsterdam is intertwined with the venturing into Europe by Japanese businesses. In the wake of the first Japanese (manufacturing) company in Europe, the Bank of Tokyo (as it was then) became the first Japanese bank to open a certified agency in Amsterdam in 1963. Initially, the office acted as an intermediary for the parent company in Tokyo and the head office in London. But with the growing Japanese share of the single European market, the Dutch office grew to its present form: a service centre for all financial matters in the European Union. In addition, a trust office was set up. Most customers are still Japanese companies and their employees, but BTMU also banks for other Asian ventures and for Dutch companies which export to Japan.

The Amsterdam outpost in Europe grew even faster thanks to the consolidation of international banking. After the merger of their parent companies, the previously competing Bank of Tokyo and Mitsubishi Bank joined forces, and later, the UFJ Bank was a further addition. Now MUFG sends its management teams from their Amsterdam base to offices in Warsaw, Prague and Vienna. 

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