Bank of Boston Prepares Push to Build an Asian Beachhead

Article excerpt

Bank of Boston Corp., long known for its solid foothold in Latin America, will launch an ambitious effort next month to build the same kind of presence in Asia.

"Economic activity is flowering in Asia, precipitating a great deal of financial and banking activity," said Henrique de Campos Meirelles, president of Bank of Boston, in a recent interview. "We plan to leverage our strengths with selective customers in s elective markets."

Citicorp, Chase Manhattan Corp., and BankAmerica Corp. are also stepping up their activities in Asia, a region growing faster than their home markets.

For $62 billion-asset Bank of Boston, the move is part of a plan to boost revenues from international operations over the next three years to more than 30% of the total. In 1996 it was 25%, or $940 million.

Until now, Latin America has been Bank of Boston's main overseas focus, accounting for about 82% of international revenues and 21% of all revenues in 1996. By contrast, Asia accounted for less than 2% of total bank revenues of nearly $3.7 billion.

Mr. Meirelles, the 51-year-old former head of Bank of Boston's Brazilian business, launched an extensive review of the bank's operations after becoming president last July.

Since then he has undertaken a number of initiatives largely aimed at moving beyond traditional retail and corporate activities and into capital markets and investment banking.

Mr. Meirelles is clearly interested in exporting this philosophy to the Far East, including India, where "indigenous and foreign banks in the region have gained momentum."

The bank already has branches in Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Seoul; representative offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Bombay, and Jakarta; and an offshore banking unit in Manila.

However, the network has been limited to providing trade finance, treasury, and correspondent banking services. As part of the plan to expand in Asia, Mr. Meirelles said, Bank of Boston has applied to Chinese regulators to convert its Shanghai rep office into a branch.

Mr. Meirelles described the Asian plan in stages:

First it will focus on expanding trade finance operations for companies doing business there and between Asia and Latin America.

Next, the bank will seek to develop business with larger corporations, mainly in such so-called emerging markets as China, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The offerings will include trade finance, structured financing, loan syndications, capital-market un derwritings, and risk management. …