Three Spanish banks to open in Miami-Dade
By Claudio Mendonça
Three Spanish financial institutions plan to move into Miami-Dade County.
Banco Popular Español, Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo and Caixa Galicia - one commercial and two savings institutions - have applied for permits to operate in Miami, according to the Florida Department of Banking and Finance. All three hope to open in Brickell.
In addition, two domestic institutions, Bank of Coral Gables and Commerce Bank, are planning to open locally.
According to Banco Popular Español attorney Alcides Avila, the bank applied to open a representative office to promote products and services. With 2,100 branches in Europe, Banco Popular is the No. 3 bank in Spain. "We are hoping Banco Popular Español can receive approval by year's end," said Mr. Avila, a partner at law firm Holland & Knight in Miami.
According to David Devick, financial control analyst with the Florida Department of Banking and Finance in Tallahassee, permits take four to six months from application to approval.
Mr. Avila also represents Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo, based in Valencia, Spain. He said the bank probably will file as an agency within 30 days. Mr. Avila said the Caja de Ahorros model as a non-profit organization without shareholders invests 25% of its earnings in community programs.
Caixa Galicia is ranked among the top 10 banks in Spain, according to bank attorney Clemente Vasquez-Bello, a senior partner at Gunster Yoakley's Miami office.
"Caixa Galicia has a significant base in Latin America," said Mr. Vasquez-Bello. "They feel they can better serve their clientele with an agency in South Florida."
Mr. Vasquez-Bello said the operation would have a staff of five or six at the beginning.
Bancaja, Spain's fourth-largest bank also known as Caja de Ahorros de Valencia, Castellon y Alicante, was approved as an agency in 1998. It has applied to become a branch. Florida law allows foreign banks to open as branches after two years of activity in the state.
Mr. Avila said an agency operates similarly to a branch but does not accept resident deposits. Branches, however, accept domestic deposits of more than $100,000 from large companies grossing $1 million or more.
Mr. Vasquez Bello said the international banking industry is growing. "We had a few losses, but new banks are coming in and the industry is expanding," he said.
Mr. Avila attributed the Spanish interest in South Florida to a variety of factors.
"Miami has the contacts, a similar time zone, facilities for communications and expertise in international trade," said Mr. Avila. "Spanish companies have a tremendous amount of investment in Latin America, and they are also starting to be interested in doing business in the US as well. Major Spanish companies see Miami as a central location to do business in all areas, whether in telecommunications, transportation or international trade."
Mr. Avila said Miami's proximity to countries in the Southern Hemisphere remains an advantage. "Proximity is very important because companies want to stay closer to their clients," he said.
Also, he said, overhead costs, especially in office space and taxes, are lower in Florida than in other banking centers such as Chicago and New York.
"Whether it is by servicing European corporations or by providing wealth-management services," said Florida International Banking Association Executive Director Patricia Roth, "Miami is still the best platform to deal with Latin America."