A U.S. Foothold

BCI’s Miami Banking Bridge

In 2015, a Chilean bank became the owner of the second largest bank in South Florida – City National Bank – further solidifying its presence in the Florida market. Banco de Crédito e Inversiones (BCI) invested close to $1 billion to acquire the domestic bank with the belief that the decision aligned with the bank’s long-term goals. “Some of the investors questioned it, but we felt very comfortable to say, ‘We know we’re going to make it a success.’ We had the right people, it’s the right cultural organization, and it had the right framework for what we wanted as a community bank,” says Grisel Vega, General Manager of BCI Miami. “That was a big step in the internationalization process for BCI.”

BCI was founded in Chile in 1937 to help small business owners mostly in the textile and agricultural export industries receive loans to help expand their businesses. In 1998, when Chilean law began permitting financial institutions to expand abroad and create branches overseas, BCI followed its clients to the U.S., specifically Miami. “They always wanted to have a presence in the United States because the mission for the bank is to support its customers as they’re trying to grow their businesses. We follow our customers where they expand, so we looked at where the customers were going, and the decision was Miami,” says Vega.

Grisel Vega, General Manager of BCI Miami

Vega likes to compare Miami’s financial prowess to hubs like New York, in particular its Latin American advantages. “If you think of the larger global banks in New York, there are a lot of European and Asian [financial institutions]. Miami is an international location, but it was and continues to be the Latin American hub,” he says. Among the reasons are the city’s closeness to Latin America, both culturally and in terms of air transportation, with its abundance of direct flights to the region. “It is easy for our clients to come through Miami. It’s the first stopping point.”

The bank initially began with about $20 million in assets under management, but today has $90.4 billion in total assets, making it the 8th largest bank in Latin America. According to BCI’s financial reporting, since acquiring City National, the bank has doubled in assets, with 33 percent outside of Chile.

With 1,200 employees in the U.S., BCI provides its clients with a variety of financial services, ranging from trade finance to wealth management and corporate banking. “A lot of the companies in Chile that export things, like sushi grade salmon to Japan, will come to us for help in those finances. We facilitate the cash management for these companies, providing a line of credit,” says Vega. 

By integrating CNB into its portfolio, BCI Chile created a seamless experience for its clients, providing them with access to a diverse range of products and solutions under one roof. CNB also allows BCI to transfer their clients to the domestic bank once they have established a strong foothold in the U.S. market, further cementing them as a U.S. corporation. “We can process payrolls, Ach wires, etc., but we’re one branch in Brickell Avenue. If you want to get cash and make deposits, there’s branches of City National, they have ATMs in every Publix. We [BCI] don’t have that structure. We don’t care where our client is, as long as we’re servicing them within our family,” says Vega. Last year, CNB closed with $26 billion in assets, 30 percent of BCI’s total, growing sixfold since BCI became the owner.

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