Credit Lyonnais, the French banking giant, has formed an American subsidiary to provide asset-based financing to middlemarket companies nationwide.

Based in Stamford, Conn., Lyon Credit Corp. is headed by John M. Bowes, former president of Chrysler Capital Corp., which had $7 billion of assets before closing in 1992.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Bowes acknowledged that he is entering a crowded field of bank and nonbank competitors in the asset-based lending business.

Despite the French bank's backing, it's unlikely that the entry of Lyon Credit will alter the competitive landscape.

"I can't see where the creation of one more player makes that much of a difference," said a spokesman for a major finance company, who did not want to be identified.

But Mr. Bowes said Lyon Credit plans to become a niche player, offering "uniquely tailored" products through a national sales force.

Mr. Bowes said he expects to achieve asset size of several hundred million dollars over time.

That's bigger than some regional players, but only a fraction of the size of the top finance companies. General Electric Capital Corp. and General Motors Acceptance Corp. both had more than $90 billion of assets at yearend 1992, according to the most recent American Banker survey of finance companies.

Lyon Credit will focus on companies with sales of $10 million to $300 million, providing equipment and asset-based financing, and financings for leveraged buyouts. It also plans to provide project financings and arrange leveraged leases.

In addition to its Stamford office, Lyon Credit has opened a regional office in Atlanta and plans to open another on the West Coast.

Mr. Bowes said he approached a number of foreign financial institutions with the idea of setting up a U.S. finance subsidiary. The plan seemed to appeal most to Credit Lyonnais, which has been aggressively building up its U.S. operations.

While the French bank already had a leasing business in this country, it has not been active in middle-market lending, Mr. Bowes noted. "I brought together some people and experience and a plan that made sense for them," he added.

Robert Cohen, country manager for Credit Lyonnais in the U.S., couldn't be reached for comment.

In building up Lyon Credit's sales force, Mr. Bowes said he hopes to recruit former colleagues from Chrysler Capital, who will be able to provide the company with a ready-made roster of client relationships.

Initially, Mr. Bowes said, Lyon Credit will provide individual financings of a million dollars or less. As the company grows in asset size, the average size of its transactions probably will increase as well.

Lyon Credit's plan for now is to build an asset base that will generate enough income to cover its operating costs and provide a return to its parent, which will be the subsidiary's sole source of funding.

Eventually, Mr. Bowes said, he hopes to generate business both for Lyon Credit's own account, and for outside investors.

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