In a bold and unusual move for a U.S. bank, Bankers Trust New York Corp. plans to build an insurance underwriting and sales business across Latin America.
The bank company said it has brought Latin American partners into its Chilean insurance and annuity underwriting subsi-diary-Consorcio Nacional de Seguros SA-in a bid to extend those operations both within Chile and throughout Latin America.
Last week, two Chilean health care companies-Cruz Blanca Prevision y Seguros SA and Banmedica SA-each bought a 25% stake in Consorcio Nacional for $109 million. Proceeds of the sale will be put into Bankers Trust earnings in the second and third quarters this year.
The two Chilean companies, which are part of wider Chilean business conglomerates, plan to use their Latin America networks to help expand insurance operations.
"The idea is to expand in Latin America, and we feel that Consorcio is the best vehicle for that expansion," said Juan Bilbao, senior managing director and head for Latin America at Bankers Trust.
Although other U.S. banks have pondered getting into the insurance business abroad, few have made any move to do so. Citicorp obtained Federal Reserve Board approval in 1985 and is said to be developing insurance operations in Latin America as well as in Europe. Citicorp officials were unavailable for comment.
Under Federal Reserve Board regulations, banks are allowed to underwrite and sell life insurance and annuities outside the United States. But the regulations also require banks engaging in such activity to deduct the full amount of their investment in insurance companies from their capital.
"The main constraint is just how much of a hit on capital a bank is prepared to take," said Paul Pilecki, a partner in the financial institutions group at the Washington-based law firm, Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge.
The Bankers Trust strategy to develop insurance operations got mixed reviews from analysts.
"As the concept of private savings for retirement gathers steam in Latin America, what better way is there for Bankers Trust to develop this business than through Consorcio?" remarked Raphael Soifer, a banking analyst at Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co.
However, Diane Glossman, a banking analyst at Salomon Brothers Inc., expressed doubt whether Bankers Trust has anything more than a short-term interest in pumping up the value of its Latin American insurance subsidiary.
Ms. Glossman noted that the banking company had sold another Chilean insurance company last year. And she speculated that it might sell its remaining stake in Consorcio, too.
"These businesses were bought through debt-for-equity swaps and were very profitable, but the two subs did not fit in a business sense with anything else they were doing," Ms. Glossman said.
The insurance gambit is the latest step by Bankers Trust to break into nontraditional banking activities such as investment banking, equity investments, and the securitization and sale of problem loans.
Earlier this year, it bought Baltimore-based Alex. Brown Inc. and signed agreements with Nippon Credit Bank Ltd. and the Mexican central bank to dispose of tens of billions worth of problem banking assets in Japan and Mexico.
A Bankers Trust spokesman said it is keen on developing insurance as well as asset management as Latin American countries move to privatize their pension fund systems.
"We think the market in Latin America is going to increase outside Chile," the spokesman said.
The Chilean insurance company underwrites pension-related life and disability insurance and sells pension-related life insurance annuities. Bankers Trust had $204 million of revenues from insurance premiums last year.