Large foreign-owned banks continue to spread out across the U.S., as they turn over every stone looking for new revenue opportunities.
In one of the latest moves, Bank of the West (owned by French bank BNP Paribas) has opened a commercial banking office in Atlanta. It's the second office outside $69 billion-asset Bank of the West's 19-state retail footprint. Its other location, a commercial banking office in Chicago, opened about three years ago.
Commercial banking offices are just one of several different ways that foreign banks are looking to the U.S. for growth. BBVA Compass, the Spanish-owned bank, opened a loan production office in Charlotte, N.C., in April. Bank of the West earlier this year set out a shingle of its wealth-management arm in New York. MUFG Union Bank, owned by Japan's Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, has said it wants to be one of the 10 largest U.S. financial institutions by 2016.
Expanding outside of a traditional market can offer a bank a way to deploy excess liquidity and diversify loan portfolios. But it can also be risky, due to a foreign bank's inherent unfamiliarity with the market.
Those concerns did not dissuade Bank of the West, said Chris Torie, managing director and head of the Atlanta office. Atlanta makes sense as the location for a commercial lending office because it is the economic hub of the Southeast, he said. Plus, Torie himself is very familiar with the market.
"Atlanta has held up better than the rest of the country through the financial crisis and economic downturn, and it's still expected to grow faster than the rest of the country," Torie said.
Torie previously worked in Atlanta for C&S Bank, which later became part of Bank of America. During the 1980s and 1990s, there were more foreign banks with offices in Atlanta. The foreign banks left in the late 1990s, but have slowly started to return, Torie said.
Bank of the West's office in the city will focus on commercial-and-industrial lending, specifically in the bank's core industry segments like equipment finance. The office, at first, will primarily serve existing European-based companies that do business in Atlanta and the Southeast.
Bank of the West may also look to open satellite branches of the Atlanta office, in perhaps Charlotte or elsewhere in the Carolinas, or in Florida or Texas, Torie said.
One of Torie's main selling points, he said, is that Bank of the West and BNP Paribas have offices in more than 70 countries. Many borrowers want to have a relationship with one bank worldwide, rather than several banks in different territories, he said.
"We're on the ground in so many places, our clients are more comfortable working with us as one bank instead of having a hodgepodge of banks," Torie said.