Consolidation and focus – for the benefit of investors and partners
The AMIRA project set up to handle the integration process involved several stages, starting in 2000. Initially, the then DG, GZ and WGZ banks transferred their shares in DIFA and other entities to Union Fonds Holding at the end of 2000. This was followed in mid-2001 by the appointment of senior management staff to give the new structure a public face. The holding company took over management of the Group, with the individual investment management companies continuing to operate independently. The new set-up unlocked a range of quantitative and qualitative synergy effects. These included enabling the partner companies to share the same branding. In addition, the business was given a stronger marketing focus and it became possible to provide the cooperative partner banks with all the main asset categories from a single source. A greater emphasis on international markets going forward was another important consideration.
Manfred Mathes, the chair of the AMIRA steering committee at the time, summed up the situation in German financial newspaper Börsenzeitung: "Overall, the expectation is that the new structure will improve market penetration and thus benefit the credit cooperatives, that synergies will be exploited and the position of the FinanzVerbund banking alliance strengthened with regard to future European and international strategies." The broader scope of the holding company enabled the Group to cover all the main asset categories and offer innovative fund products.
Integration of the individual asset management companies as part of national consolidation of the holding company’s activities saw Hamburg – DIFA's long-standing headquarters – retained as the focus of real estate expertise. Writing to all employees, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Heinz Hilgert, stated: "In order to meet the special requirements of the real estate business, we have decided that the core specialisms of this business area should continue to be handled at our Hamburg location."
It was recognised that the real estate segment had a special role to play, not least because open-ended real estate funds were viewed as a "safe harbour" by investors. Risk aversion rose steadily as a result of stock market setbacks and the economic downturn. The integration of DIFA into the Union Investment Group with its strong umbrella brand was an important milestone on the road to creating an active, sales-focused asset manager. The same strategy has been pursued since 2000, leading to strong growth of the real estate business in the intervening years and making a crucial contribution to the ability to survive a range of market crises .