Building on its already strong position in Brazil, BankBoston Corp. will add 15 branches there over the next 18 months.
BankBoston president Henrique de Campos Mereilles, himself a Brazilian, said the decision comes as part of a continuing campaign to share in Brazil's economic success.
With the additional branches, the bank would have a 64-office network in Brazil, leading all other U.S. banks.
"We have a strong position at the top end of the market, and the idea is to build on our strengths," Mr. Mereilles said.
In a departure from the bank's long-standing focus on high-net-worth people, BankBoston may also launch a consumer finance company to develop business with middle-class customers with incomes of at least $2,000 a month.
The bank now accepts only customers with incomes of at least $4,000 a month.
BankBoston and Citicorp are the only U.S. companies with extensive consumer banking activities in Latin America.
The Boston company has about $5 billion of assets in Brazil, $5 billion in Argentina, and $1.4 billion in Chile. It runs a small network in Uruguay and is building operations in Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, where the bank opened a branch in Lima last October.
Heading up BankBoston's Brazilian expansion is Geraldo Jose Carbone, who formerly ran the Brazilian fiduciary operations, including asset management, mutual funds, and private banking.
Mr. Carbone replaced Carlos Lopes Craide, who was hired eight months ago from Citicorp but left BankBoston this month to take over the Brazilian operations of ING Barings.
Mr. Mereilles stressed that Mr. Craide's departure was on amicable terms, and he added that Mr. Carbone is a logical successor because he had taken the lead in developing electronic delivery in Brazil.
According to the executive, BankBoston has been adding about 2,000 customers in Brazil each month.
Mr. Mereilles said that the number of high-net-worth customers served by BankBoston in Brazil should increase to 100,000 within two years, from 54,000 today, while the number of credit card customers will grow to between 400,000 and 500,000, from around 200,000.
BankBoston will decide whether to launch a consumer finance company during the next 90 days. If approved, the finance company would initially focus on automotive lending and in time would be extended to a limited range of basic banking services via telephone, personal computer, and automated teller machine.
The idea, Mr. Mereilles said, is to increase revenues from the fast- growing consumer banking business in Brazil without adding to overheads.
"We think we can reach the middle part of the market in a cheaper and more efficient way," Mr. Mereilles said.
BankBoston's decision to intensify its expansion in Brazil comes amid increasing competition from domestic and foreign banks. Two other U.S. banks-Wachovia Corp. and NationsBank Corp.-have been expanding in Brazil, as has London-based HSBC Holdings PLC, which in March paid $1 billion to acquire Banco Bamerindus do Brasil SA.
That same month Spain's Banco Santander SA agreed to acquire Banco Geral do Comercio, and BankBoston itself recently considered buying Banco de Credito Real de Minas Gerais SA but decided not to bid.
Mr. Mereilles, however, stressed that although BankBoston has looked over the books at several Brazilian banks up for sale, he sees no real need to acquire another institution.
"We're not looking at any banks in Brazil at the moment," he said.
He added that any acquisition the bank might make would be "complementary " to its existing program and would serve only a limited purpose, such as extending the bank's franchise into a particular geographic market. He also emphasized that given BankBoston's focus on the high end of the market, acquiring banks with a large number of branches and many low-income customers would violate the company's strategy.
"We've been in this market for 50 years," he observed.
"The others don't have our image, our customers, our people, and the only way they (foreign banks) can get into this market is by buying a bank."
Analysts expressed some surprise that BankBoston is considering expanding in consumer finance in Brazil when it pulled out of similar businesses in the United States this year by selling two domestic consumer finance companies, Ganis Credit Corp. and Fidelity Acceptance Corp.
They also concluded that BankBoston is pushing ahead in Brazil largely because it is unwilling - or unable - to spend the kind of money its competitors have on acquisitions.
"They're doing it because they've been shut out of the acquisition market," said Nancy Bush, an analyst at Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co. "It's their only alternative."
"They couldn't buy anything, so they have to build on their own," said Thomas McCandless, an analyst at Natwest Securities Corp.
Mr. McCandless, however, also pointed out that BankBoston's tougher credit standards have put it at a disadvantage with foreign banks that are prepared to take bigger risks in Brazil. He added that he found it hard to disagree with the current strategy.
"Basically, they're doing what's sensible," Mr. McCandless said. "As a shareholder, I would rather see them build on their own than buy something that's shoddy."