The battle to take over ABN Amro Bank has taken an interesting turn: one of the two contenders Barclays Bank is openly waging a charm offensive as well as slugging it out with share and cash bids.

Yesterday Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen proudly announced that Barclays was prepared to help the Dutch capital set up a top business school to train financial professionals. A sort Harvard on the Amstel, Cohen said, referring to the river which runs through the city.
As with all PR-stunts, the hook line, Harvard on the Amstel, sounds sexy. Barclays, said the mayor, is going to use its international contacts to set up the institute. Gosh, Harvard, of course, one thinks. That really would be something. But no, so far the only contact to be named is the University of Chicago, a solid name but no Harvard.
Even if the school ever makes it, one wonders how many top students will use it, given that they can these days go virtually anywhere, including Harvard itself. Will the end result then be a centre of excellence or of mediocrity?
One has to admire the mayor and his efforts to breathe new life into the idea of making Amsterdam a top financial centre. Efforts in the past to stem the flow of trade and talent to greater financial centres such as the City in London have largely failed. It’s going to take a lot more than Harvard on the Amstel to make it work this time.

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