Rich Latin Americans love Miami for all sorts of reasons: vacation, shopping, investments. All of which is proving very good for Itaú Private Bank International.
Itaú, the Brazilian banking giant based in São Paulo, opened shop in Miami in 2007 to serve wealthy foreigners. Since then, as Miami’s allure as a mecca for wealthy Latins has grown, so has the bank.
“In just the last three years, we have doubled both our revenues and client assets under management,” said Frances Aldrich Sevilla-Sacasa, chief executive officer of Itaú Private Bank International in Miami. “We are doing business in the U.S., but our market is all of Latin America.”
The bank — which deals exclusively in international operations — occupies some 40,000 square feet of space on two floors of the Southeast Financial Center. That includes about 6,000 square feet currently under construction to provide additional private rooms for meeting with clients and more space for employees.
Its staff of 150 marks an increase of 23 percent over the past three years, and it is looking to hire more bankers and securities brokers as it capitalizes on Miami’s position as a gateway for foreigners with interests in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Private banking covers a range of services, from basic things like transferring funds, bill paying and providing credit to more elaborate help like devising a master plan for allocating assets, managing investments, creating trusts and estate planning.
“Our clients are looking for global diversification,” Aldrich Sevilla-Sacasa said. “They have a great deal of wealth through their family businesses or their professional careers. Many high-net-worth Latin American families tend to be global themselves. They have family living elsewhere, and they have global characteristics.”
As an Edge Act bank regulated by the Federal Reserve, Itaú Miami is a niche player, focused exclusively on foreigners who are not U.S. residents.
Itaú sees an advantage in its deep knowledge of the Latin American market and the cultural nuances of its customers. In the office, Itaú employees speak mostly Spanish and Portuguese in their dealings with clients and flow between those languages and English with one another.
Itaú Miami’s key strategy is to attract more wealthy Latin clients from outside of its stronghold of Brazil, specifically from places like Mexico, Colombia and Peru.
That fits with the larger strategy of the parent company, Itaú Unibanco Holding SA. As one of the world’s largest banks with assets of $511 billion at the end of the first quarter and a current market capitalization of $57.2 billion, it aims to become more global with 25 percent of its assets outside of Brazil over the coming years.
In employees, the Miami office constitutes the bank’s largest office outside of Latin America (though some would contend Miami isn’t outside Latin America.) The Miami-based private bank also has a New York office in the GM building on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park, located alongside other Itaú operations.
Itaú’s other private-bank operations outside Brazil are in Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Uruguay and Chile.
In Miami, the bank has been one of the main sponsors of the Sony Open tennis tournament for years, and many clients attend the event.
Aldrich Sevilla-Sacasa joined the bank in April 2012, capping a banking career that spanned three decades, most of it in private banking. That included serving as president and CEO of U.S. Trust Company and as president of U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management after U.S. Trust’s acquisition by Bank of America in 2007.
She stepped down in 2009 and in 2011 became the interim dean of the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration.
She said she wasn’t actively looking to return to banking but was drawn to the opportunity to work with “an iconic Latin American brand.”
Itaú’s Miami operation was formed in 2007 from the acquisition of BankBoston International’s private banking office in Miami and the addition of the private banking clients of ABN-Amro’s Miami business. Both had a substantial book of business in Latin America.
Itaú’s private bank in Miami does business through two entities: BancoItaú Europa International bank and Itaú Europa Securities, a U.S.-licensed brokerage firm.
Brokers handle securities trades for clients in a glass-enclosed area of the Miami office that is walled off from the traditional banking side.
While catering to the wealthy is a lucrative sector of banking, it isn’t an easy one.
Competition is keen, particularly in Miami where a host of sophisticated international financial institutions are vying for the same clients.
And the sector is fraught with risks, as authorities are increasingly holding banks responsible for the illicit activity of their clients — even when banks are unwitting participants. A cottage industry has sprung up around selling services, software, and training to banks to help them deal with the spiraling demands of complying with regulations.
“The government for years has deputized banks,” said Charles A. Intriago, president of the Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists, a Miami firm that does training and hosts conferences on financial crimes like fraud, money-laundering and corruption.
Aldrich Sevilla-Sacasa said the bank takes its obligations seriously.
“The growth in compliance costs is a reality given the industry’s continuously expanding obligations,” Aldrich Sevilla-Sacasa said, ticking off a list of bank responsibilities pertaining to the prevention of money laundering, know-your-customer requirements, anti-corruption laws, and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA.
“We monitor these very closely to ensure that we keep up with the changes in such laws and in the markets in which we do business,” she said.