Mexican's Growth Strategy Targets U.S. Side of Border

Salvador Villar is not someone prone to advertise himself.

But earlier this month, Mr. Villar stepped into the limelight when he was named president and chief executive at California Commerce Bank, with $550 million in assests the largest Mexican-owned bank in the United States.

Visibility Increases

With the United States, Mexico, and Canada likely to sign a North American free-trade agreement next year, California Commerce and its $33 billion-asset parent company, Banco Nacional de Mexico, are getting a higher profile than they have ever had.

"We're going to specialize in serving individuals and companies that have commercial relations with Mexico," Mr. Villar said.

He added that trade finance and treasury services would be among the first services expanded.

That is his first priority. His second is to build up retail services to Southern California's growing Mexican community.

"We feel that Mexican community is somewhat underserved," said Mr. Villar.

In addition to expanding retail banking services through its nine branches in California, the bank also aims to develop border banking business, such as foreign exchange and money transfers. The transfers are through International Payment Systems, a unit of the bank that works in association with American Express Co.

It's one of our strongest consumer products,' Mr. Villar said.

With American Express covering the United States and Banco Nacional covering Mexico with over 720 branches, a customer can wire money from just about anywhere in the United States to anywhere in Mexico within 24 hours, Mr. Villar said.

Bank Has Expanded Steadily

The 41-year-old banker replaces Pablo de la Peca, who has returned to Mexico City to head financial planning for Banco Nacional.

Mr. Villar also is president of Banamex USA Bancorp, the Los Angeles-based holding company for California Commerce.

The bank, formerly known as the Community Bank of San Jose, has expanded steadily since it was acquired by Banamex in 1978.

Mr. Villar said he hopes the bank will expand further to other states along the border with Mexico where "the business links are similar,"but plans to "take one step at a time."

A graduate of Harvard Business School and Ibero-American University of Mexico City, Mr. Villar joined Banamex in 1971 and moved to California Commerce in 1981.

His sole avocation, Mr. Villar said, is hunting, but he prefers to avoid regions north of the Rio Grande.

"Too cold," he said.

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