By Thomas Escritt and Toby Sterling
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch cooperative bank Rabobank [RABO.UL] plans to lay off nearly a fifth of its workforce to boost profit and prepare for tougher European banking guidelines, it said on Wednesday.
The bank said it would shed 9,000 of its 47,000 staff by 2018 and would cut 150 billion euros ($164.7 billion) worth of assets from its balance sheet by 2020, to comply with a rulebook known as Basel IV intended to help make banks more resilient to economic and market shocks.
The moves are part of a strategic plan in the works since Chief Executive Wiebe Draijer was appointed in October 2014. The bank is refocusing on its roots in agricultural lending and will reduce mortgage and commercial lending.
"The transformation that we are presenting today is necessary ... for a healthy future for the bank," Draijer said. "To remain a rock solid bank, Rabobank will strive to improve operating profits by 2.1 billion euros in 2020.
"We'll do that partly by increasing profits, and partly by cutting costs ... We realize this is not easy."
Rabobank is the latest in a list of banks to axe thousands of jobs this year. Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE), Credit Suisse (CSGN.VX), HSBC (HSBA.L) and Standard Chartered (STAN.L) have all announced plans for hefty job culls, adding to big cuts from the likes of Barclays (BARC.L), UBS (UBSG.VX), RBS (RBS.L) and Lloyds (LLOY.L).
The cuts, which will primarily hit back office functions at cooperative members, are on top of 3,000 redundancies already planned up until the end of 2016.
Rabobank also said its 106 members had approved a governance change demanded by regulators under which cooperative offices are formally subordinated to the central office in Utrecht.
The bank set financial targets, including confirming a plan to shed 150 billion euros in assets, from its balance sheet of 680 billion. Additionally, it targets reducing its cost-to-income ratio to 50 percent from above 60 percent, Draijer said.
Rabobank is the largest mortgage lender in the Netherlands and mortgage debt will receive a relatively heavier risk weighting under Basel IV.
Rabobank, which competes with ING (ING.AS) and ABN Amro (ABNd.AS) in the Dutch market, in August reported first-half earnings of 1.5 billion euros, up 41 percent year-on-year and helped by a fall in bad loans and a rebounding Dutch economy.
The bank's cuts come weeks after ABN refloated its shares seven years after being nationalized during the financial crisis.
ABN, once the world's 14th largest bank, slashed tens of thousands of jobs in recent years and has refocused on the Dutch market. ING, also bailed out in 2008, sold off operations including its insurance arm.
($1 = 0.9106 euros)
(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Steve Slater in London; Editing by Susan Fenton and David Holmes)