Sale of Brickell Bank falls through after wealthy Venezuelan family abandons bid

Brickell Bank, headquartered in Miami’s Brickell financial district, was formerly known as Espírito Santo Bank.
Brickell Bank, headquartered in Miami’s Brickell financial district, was formerly known as Espírito Santo Bank. El Nuevo Herald

A wealthy Venezuelan family’s bid to buy Miami-based Brickell Bank has officially collapsed, months after rumors first started flying that the deal was on the rocks.

Despite the speculation, representatives of both the bank and Venezuela’s Benacerraf family had insisted they would close on the $10 million sale. But behind the scenes concerns were brewing that a federal banking regulator would refuse to bless the deal, first publicly proposed nearly two years ago.

The Miami Herald reported on the rumblings of failure in early January. On Feb. 1, a representative of the family withdrew its application to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, according to an agency spokesman.

Alcides Avila, a Miami-based attorney for the family, said the FDIC’s delay in approving the deal led both the Benacerrafs and the bank “to decide it was in their best interest to terminate the agreement and move on.”

“Foreign applications typically involve delays as the regulator seeks information,” Avila said.

FDIC spokesman LaJuan Williams-Young declined to comment.

No matter: The bank — which was salvaged after the recession from the collapse of its parent company, Portugal’s Espírito Santo group — says it is making progress on finding a new buyer.

“We are currently in discussions with new potential buyers and will have news to share in approximately six weeks,” G. Frederick Reinhardt, Brickell Bank’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “We are currently in a ‘quiet period’ and cannot provide further information at this time.”

Out of the rubble

Brickell Bank had been ordered by the FDIC to find a new owner in 2014 after the Portuguese government bailed out its parent, leading worried customers of the Miami bank to withdraw funds. It serves mainly wealthy Latin American clients.

The Benacerraf family, a Venezuelan banking clan led by patriarch Salomón Henry Benacerraf, a former chairman of Visa International, had first submitted applications to buy the bank in June 2015. The Florida Office of Financial Regulation approved the deal but a federal thumbs-up was slower in coming.

The family is still interested in purchasing a U.S. bank, according to Avila.

Both Avila and Reinhardt had previously told the Herald they expected the Brickell Bank deal to go through, despite mounting evidence of trouble.

The bank, formerly known as Espírito Santo Bank, is rated as “problematic” by banking analysis firm Bauer Financial. But things seem to be improving: Reinhardt told the Herald that the bank is “on track to break even in 2017.” It has not made a profit since 2013.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas