Republic of Miami's Botifoll Foresees In-Market Growth

Luis Botifoll, chairman of Republic National Bank of Miami, may be Florida's grand old man of banking at age 83, but he is not about to slow down.

"We're the biggest local bank in Dade County and the biggest Hispanic bank in the United States," he boasts. "And we've still got a market to expand in."

With First Union Corp.'s acquisition of Southeast Bank of Miami in September, the $1.3 billion-asset Republic became the biggest locally owned bank in Dade County, which includes Miami. (The company is unrelated to the much larger Republic National Bank of New York.)

Profits Surge 74%

And in a vibrant local economy, business is booming at Republic. Third-quarter profits were up 74% from a year ago, to $3 million. For the nine months, profits rose 21%, to $7.2 million.

In the next three to four years, Mr. Botifoll predicted, Republic will probably double its assets and add at least five branches to its current 20.

Republic's strong performance comes amid an explosion in the number of Hispanic banks in Miami, broadly defined as those owned by Hispanic investors, run by Hispanic management, and catering primarily to the Latino community.

Since 1965, when Republic was founded, the number of Hispanic banks has risen to 23, or 39% of the 59 locally licensed banks in Miami.

At June 30, Hispanic banks held nearly 20% of some $26.9 billion in deposits in Dade County, which has a large population of Cuban emigres.

And while deposits at non-Hispanic banks in the county fell 2.8%, to $21.6 billion, in the six months through June 30, deposits at Hispanic banks climbed by $203 million, or 4%, to $5.27 billion.

Dade County's large Hispanic population, the bank's bilingual staff, and close relations with the local community all operate in Republic's favor, said Mr. Botifoll.

"We know who's who," he said. "We speak Spanish as well as English, we take decisions quickly, and you can walk in and see the president anytime you want.

"At other banks, you're just a number. People resent that."

Republic's success stands in sharp contrast to the recent collapses of Southeast Bank and CenTrust Bank, a big Miami thrift.

It also underscores the remarkable economic rise of immigrants like Mr. Botifoll, who arrived in Miami in August 1960 - shortly after Fidel Castro's revolution - with his wife, three children, and little more than the clothes on his back.

A Foe of Castro's

A former editor at El Mundo, a large daily newspaper in Havana, Mr. Botifoll spent his first three years in the United States campaigning to overthrow Castro. When funding for that movement ran out, Mr. Botifoll began working as a consultant on Latin America.

In 1970, three years after Republic had been acquired by Ecuadoran investors, Mr. Botifoll was asked to join its board and was subsequently to take over as chairman.

The first years in the United States were the toughest, he recalled. "It was difficult enough coming to a country without a cent in your pocket," he said.

"You also have to remember that Miami was also a lot smaller; it was mainly a tourist town; and you didn't have a large community that spoke your language."

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