Bank of Boston Corp., long known for its solid foothold in Latin America, will launch an ambitious effort next month to build the same kind of presence in Asia.
"Economic activity is flowering in Asia, precipitating a great deal of financial and banking activity," said Henrique de Campos Meirelles, president of Bank of Boston, in a recent interview. "We plan to leverage our strengths with selective customers in selective markets."
Citicorp, Chase Manhattan Corp., and BankAmerica Corp. are also stepping up their activities in Asia, a region growing faster than their home markets.
For $62 billion-asset Bank of Boston, the move is part of a plan to boost revenues from international operations over the next three years to more than 30% of the total. In 1996 it was 25%, or $940 million.
Until now, Latin America has been Bank of Boston's main overseas focus, accounting for about 82% of international revenues and 21% of all revenues in 1996. By contrast, Asia accounted for less than 2% of total bank revenues of nearly $3.7 billion.
Mr. Meirelles, the 51-year-old former head of Bank of Boston's Brazilian business, launched an extensive review of the bank's operations after becoming president last July.
Since then he has undertaken a number of initiatives largely aimed at moving beyond traditional retail and corporate activities and into capital markets and investment banking.
Mr. Meirelles is clearly interested in exporting this philosophy to the Far East, including India, where "indigenous and foreign banks in the region have gained momentum."
The bank already has branches in Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Seoul; representative offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Bombay, and Jakarta; and an offshore banking unit in Manila.
However, the network has been limited to providing trade finance, treasury, and correspondent banking services. As part of the plan to expand in Asia, Mr. Meirelles said, Bank of Boston has applied to Chinese regulators to convert its Shanghai rep office into a branch.
Mr. Meirelles described the Asian plan in stages:
First it will focus on expanding trade finance operations for companies doing business there and between Asia and Latin America.
Next, the bank will seek to develop business with larger corporations, mainly in such so-called emerging markets as China, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The offerings will include trade finance, structured financing, loan syndications, capital-market underwritings, and risk management.
Third, Bank of Boston will expand distribution of high-yield debt from the United States and emerging markets to investors in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea. Mr. Meirelles said "there is a growing demand for this sort of paper among institutional investors, professional money managers, and private investors."
Last, Bank of Boston will develop private banking for wealthy individuals.
Mr. Meirelles stressed that expansion in Asia will not come at the expense Latin America and the healthy revenue it produces.
For several years Bank of Boston has been seeking to acquire banks in Argentina and Brazil, where it has been moving into middle-market banking and broadening its retail activity. It has also been building on the corporate side in Peru, Colombia, and Mexico.
Mr. Meirelles predicted that the growth of local capital markets in Latin America over the next few years will offer opportunities in areas such as pension-fund management and for developing more local capital- market activities.
Analysts said Bank of Boston's outlook on Asia and Latin America is logical, given that growth opportunities in banking are better outside the United States.
"They're playing to their strengths," said Smith Barney analyst Chip Dickson.
Thomas Theurkauf, a banking analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods said growth from international operations "should be faster than in the U.S."
"Asia is largely untapped territory," he said, "and it makes a lot of sense" for Bank of Boston to export its talents.
Mr. Theurkauf also observed that much of the what Bank of Boston is developing abroad is geared toward generating fees, as opposed to interest- related income.
"The mix of international business they do is changing as well," he said.
Bank of Boston announced Tuesday that BancBoston Capital, its private equity investing arm, has opened offices in Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo.
Over the next three years, said Rick Fritz, president of BancBoston Capital, it plans to invest between $100 million and $150 million in private companies in the region. It can go up to $20 million in any one company, but Bank of Boston said it may also bring in other investors for additional capital.