The pending purchase of deposits in a Miami-based bank with Venezuelan ties is the latest building block in SunTrust Banks Inc.'s plan to boost its growing Latin American private banking business.
Through its Miami private banking office, Atlanta-based SunTrust has attracted wealthy clients from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and other Latin American countries. Its international private banking group there claims an annual growth rate of 35% in the asset management business.
Now the bank plans to add accounts by buying the private banking deposits of Miami-based Banco Latino International, a subsidiary of Banco Latino, a collapsed banking company in Caracas, Venezuela. The deal, expected to close early in the third quarter, would give SunTrust the chance to market its investment management wares to Banco Latino's entrepreneurial clients.
"Our goal in this is ultimately to double the size of our business" from Venezuela, said Thomas M. Cornish, a SunTrust executive vice president and head of the bank's international banking division in Miami. "If we can achieve that in 12 months, I would be pleased with the results."
SunTrust's move to court more customers from Latin America plays on the region's politics. Latin Americans, fearful of economic instability in their home countries, have long sought refuge with U.S.-based money managers.
"For a lot of Latin Americans, the key consideration was having money offshore in U.S. dollars to make sure they weren't poor if something happened," said Gene Pappas, a private banking consultant at McKinsey & Co. in New York. "Now they want to invest that."
SunTrust's private banking arm already has 500 Venezuelan clients, many of whom make their money from textiles, oil, entertainment, telecommunications, or auto parts manufacturing.
SunTrust's 2,000 Latin American private banking clients are initially asked for a minimum investment of $250,000, but some clients have brought $20 million to Miami. Overall, SunTrust has $47 billion under management.
Analysts are keeping a keen eye on SunTrust's expansion in Florida, noting that it has spent a lot to build its client base. "At the moment, it's working," said Richard X. Bove, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates Inc., St. Petersburg, Fla. "They're increasing market share dramatically."