City National Bank of Florida is selling to the highest bidder but its top executive is confident that the bank is going to the best bidder, too.
The $4.7 billion-asset bank, currently owned by Spain's Bankia, announced on Friday that it would be acquired by Chile's Banco de Credito e Inversiones, or BCI, for $882.8 million.
Jorge Gonzalez, City National's chief executive, said he is excited because BCI plans to keep the bank and its operations essentially as-is. The roar heard across the floor at the Miami bank's Brickell Avenue headquarters tells Gonzalez that his employees, who have been watching City National's future play out in the media, are happy, too.
"This is the right outcome for Bankia, for BCI and certainly for City National," Gonzalez said in an interview Tuesday. "There was applause across the entire floor when we sent the email out."
City National's sale is part of an agreement Bankia has with European regulators, and its bidding is rumored to have attracted several Latin American banks looking to broaden their reach into Miami, often considered the gateway to the Americas. Banks with existing Florida franchises, such as Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) and PNC Financial Services Group (PNC) were also rumored as bidders.
A TD, PNC or any other existing regional win likely would have meant absorbing City National and an end to the bank's brand and management. Though BCI has a thriving Miami branch, the plan is to keep City National autonomous.
Gonzalez cited a nondisclosure agreement when asked about the specifics of the bidding process, but he said BCI likely bid the highest because it has followed City National since the BCI opened its Miami branch in 1999. The branch, which has $3 billion in assets, will remain separate.
"They are acutely aware of our competencies and they don't want to change them," Gonzalez says.
"This is really great news for South Florida," says Ken Thomas, a bank consultant in Miami. "If it would have been a BB&T (BBT) or a PNC, they would have shut down the main office, there would have been consolidation, and they would have come in and changed everything. This really is the best possible outcome."
Thomas pointed to the changing hands of BankUnited (BKU), whose same-name predecessor failed in May 2009 and was bought from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. by a group of private-equity firms led by veteran banker John Kanas, as an example of how South Florida's banking environment has been altered by new owners the last few years.
BankUnited restructured and shifted away from commercial real estate. It also expanded into New York.
"We lost a major player in the real estate market with BankUnited," Thomas says. "Let's face it; we are a real-estate state. Kansas has agriculture, New York has commercial. We have real estate."
The City National deal, priced at 1.5 times the seller's tangible book value, should to close later this year or in early 2014, Gonzalez said. Though deals with foreign buyers often get additional scrutiny, industry observers say the Federal Reserve Board might like the deal because it takes the bank out of Bankia's control.
"The regulatory environment is tough, but the yes, but' aspect is that the Fed likely wants this bank to be owned by a stronger hand than a troubled regional bank from Spain," says Jeff Davis, managing director of the financial institutions group at Mercer Capital.
Though Gonzalez said he is expecting the $36 billion-asset BCI to bring a soft touch when it integrates City National, he said there are opportunities to take advantage of the new owner's strength.
"We think they can bring products, services and technology enhancements," Gonzalez said. "We run a basic model today, so even if we added one new capability, in the incremental revenue opportunities is likely significant."