Miami office of Spain's Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo seeking to become international banking branch
By Zachary S. Fagenson
The Miami office of Spain's Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo is seeking permission from state banking regulators to switch from an international bank agency, which can only provide loans, accept deposits and offer wealth management to people and business from foreign countries, to an international banking branch, which can accept deposits from US citizens and residents.
The bank, according to state's Office of Financial Regulations Web site, applied for conversion July 10 and is moving through the approval process.
"We're following the path that" many international banks take, said Dario Fuentes, senior vice president and general manager of the Spanish banking giant's Miami office. "The only way to conduct business is to keep on growing and [you do that with an application to become] a branch.
"For example, I cannot have the account of [a limited-liability corporation] under an agency. You can lend money to [them] but you cannot get traditional bank accounts," he added.
The Spanish savings bank is the fourth largest in that country and traces its roots to 1875. It has more than 1,100 offices in Spain and a presence in China, Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
The move to become a branch, he said, is not to compete with domestic banks for local deposits and commercial clients but to offer a wider array of services to individuals and business that don't spend the majority of their time in the US.
"They want to work with us on some international activity and the only way [for us] to do that is to move to branch," Mr. Fuentes said. "We don't want to compete [with local banks] and that's not our objective."
The bank, he also said, will remain in its 701 Brickell Ave. offices and will hire additional staff as its business grows, "but not dramatically."
Ryan Stokes, a senior management analyst at the state's Office of Financial Regulation, said that even after an international banking branch receives approval and can take deposits from US citizens, it won't go looking for them.
"Most of the deposits they do take are not retail banking," he said. They're "more for commercial purposes to facilitate business internationally."
The move from agency to branch, however, is a step international banks take toward becoming a player in local banking.
In November 2008, El Grupo Caja Madrid took a large stake in City National Bank of Florida. The year before, TotalBank was purchased by Spain's Banco Popular Español.
And while Mr. Fuentes wouldn't say whether such a move is already planned for Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo, he did say the bank is open to offers.
"We are open to study possibilities and acquisitions, but it's not something that we'll be doing in the short term," he said. "We've been here for three years … We're established, [we] keep on growing and following business plans, [but] that doesn't mean we're not open to hear propositions."