Regions adds new specialty

A new team of international banking specialists are ready to serve U.S. subsidiaries of international companies

Laerte Barros, left, from Region’s Houston office, and Marcus Kim, right, from the Dallas office, met up recently at Regions headquarters in Birmingham to discuss the new international subsidiaries practice. Photo by Joe De Sciose.

Birmingham-based Regions Bank recently announced the creation of a new team of international banking specialists to better serve local subsidiaries of international corporations.

The International Subsidiaries Banking (ISB) Group, a handful of veteran specialists, were brought onboard to assist Regions’ local commercial and corporate bankers to address the unique needs of the subsidiaries, says Bryan Ford, head of Treasury Management. “This is a newly formed team, but Regions’ efforts in this area have been ongoing,” he says. “Now there is a particular focus and new emphasis as we call on potential clients, as well as offer established clients additional services.”

IBS team members have decades of experience in international business and finance across Asia, Europe, Latin America and Oceania, Ford says. “We are continuing to establish and expand the group. Laerte Barros, the team leader, has been with us for about a year. Marcus Kim and Christian Louis have been added more recently,” he says. “A fourth member is on the way.”

Group members are well versed in various business cultures and may be able to converse with ex-patriot business managers in their own language, Ford says. “Our team has worked with multinationals for many years. If we are approaching a subsidiary whose parent company is in South Korea, say one of 80 suppliers to Hyundai or Kia, for example, we have a Korean manager on our team,” he says.

The 15 states where Regions operates have drawn increasing numbers of subsidiaries of foreign corporations as industries including automotive manufacturing, aerospace and petrochemicals have flourished, Barros says. “Alabama, for example, has large car manufacturers including Mercedes, Hyundai and Mazda Toyota, which are surrounded by suppliers,” he says. “It’s the supplier base owned by foreign entities we are targeting for providing services including bank accounts, financing and working capital. The larger manufacturers typically already have their banking relationship with a house bank in their own country set up and don’t need us.”

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Economic research shows a significant portion of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the U.S. is being made in areas Regions has long served, Barros says. In Alabama, specifically, investments have been made in automotive, aerospace and ship manufacturing as well as plastics, metals and chemicals. Based on local and federal data, including the Alabama Department of Commerce, Regions estimates $100 billion was invested from 2018 to 2021 alone and 300,000 jobs created in states Regions serves. “During the same period, $13 billion was invested in Alabama and 17,000 jobs created,” Barros says.

The movement of FDI to the Southern states in particular started with a migration during past decades of automakers and suppliers from the Midwest because labor practices in Southern states were considered more business friendly, Barros says. Alabama notably was able to lure German automaker Mercedes-Benz in 1993 to Vance to establish its first U.S. assembly plant in partly through $250 million in incentives. “Because of the success of those moves, additional FDIs were made,” he says. “A number of the original investments have been followed with additional investments.”

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic so disrupted the global supply chain that some foreign corporations have begun moving to onshore and near-shore operations and suppliers to avoid disruptions, Barros says. “Samsung is making a major investment in Texas for example, and automotive battery manufacturers are investing in Tennessee and Georgia,” he says.

Bryan Ford, head of Treasury Management at Regions.

Barros and his team are available to travel throughout Regions’ 15-state footprint to assist local bankers in developing new business opportunities. “Our motto at Regions is local delivery, local relationships where businesses are based,” Ford says. “Regions 360 commitment means providing full-circle support. Companies always need an operating account, but they also may need financing for local activities and other solutions, and all business have workers whom we can serve.”

Local relationship bankers may not have reached out in the past to suppliers in their area because those suppliers were not on their radar screens, Ford says. “Our new team will help them identify business opportunities and jointly call on potential clients.”

Ford points out that decision makers for internationally owned subsidiaries often are not based in the United States. “Laerte and his team are familiar with working with foreign-owned businesses,” he says. “There often are distinct differences in how foreign companies do business.”

Barros, who has worked with international corporations for more than 25 years, previously served as head of BBVA USA’s International Commercial Banking division. Responsible for the bank’s international commercial banking portfolio, he led efforts to expand the bank’s international business. Barros speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish and holds a law degree and specialization in international law from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. He also has a master of science degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Kim’s experience includes a 17-year career in Asia at Korea Exchange Bank and China Construction Bank, serving as a corporate and investment banking manager. He helped clients with structured and trade finance needs, merger and acquisition support, real estate and international syndication. He earned his bachelor of science degree in electronic engineering from Yonsei University in Seoul.

Louis has more than 20 years of banking experience, primarily working with international corporations. He served as the Eastern region specialist for BBVA USA’s International Banking division. He has worked with corporate banking clients in Korea, Bahrain, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic. Louis has a bachelor of science in engineering physics, a bachelor of arts in economics from Miami University and a master of internal business from the University of South Carolina.

So far Regions has received a positive response to the IBS team both from prospects and previous clients, Ford says. “We’re opening doors to new business. We may have had a small relationship with a subsidiary before, but this offers the opportunity to do more for our clients. We are leveraging our local relationship managers by offering them special support.”

Regions is one of the country’s largest full-service providers of consumer and commercial banking, wealth management, and mortgage products and services with more than 1,025 banking offices across its coverage areas and $155 billion in assets.

Kathy Hagood and Joe De Sciose are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Homewood and he in Birmingham.

This article appears in the July 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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