Pacific National Bank Keeps a Finger on the Gables Pulse

Pacific National Bank looks to the Gables for non-resident foreign clients

Like many Miami area financial institutions, the headquarters for Pacific National Bank is located on Brickell Avenue, now dubbed Wall Street South. And like many Miami area banks, Pacific National maintains a presence in Coral Gables. It is, after all, the most affluent city in Miami-Dade County.

“Coral Gables is very important to us,” says Carlos Fernandez-Guzman, president and CEO of Pacific National. “Our Coral Gables Branch is a good source of non-resident alien (NRA) mortgages and personal interest-bearing accounts.”

While the Gables tilts a little more domestically than the bank’s Brickell branch (they also have one in Aventura), it still supplies an international clientele that is an important and growing part of the bank’s business mix.

“Many of the domestic [Gables] clients have relationships with, and refer us to, foreign nationals … and referral sources appreciate the handholding and consultative approach we give to their referrals,” says Fernandez-Guzman.

Pacific National has always had a foreign connection, ever since it arrived in Miami as an Edge Act bank with Ecuadorian ownership in 1985. Fernandez-Guzman came on board in 2010, and in 2014 the bank was bought by a private group from Connecticut.

“Initially, the bank was entirely focused on the Ecuadorian traffic and business. Today, we have international accounts from Ecuador [and from Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil] but we are 85 percent domestic,” he says. Most of that domestic business is in commercial real estate, everything from neighborhood retail centers to Class B suburban office buildings.

The 15 percent of the bank’s business that is international, however, is growing, and a big jump from the four to five percent it had dropped to when Fernandez-Guzman arrived. “[The global share] has grown prudently so that we don’t run into any compliance issues,” he says. “It does add some cost, but our goal is to meet every compliance need … We are extremely tough with due diligence.”

The relatively small percentage of foreign clients may also be deceptive. “We focus on domestic commercial real estate, but there are often foreign partners … The majority [of deals] are domestic with some foreign participation,” says Pacific National’s CEO.

And while the bank does fund the purchase of real estate by foreign nationals, they do not facilitate the purchase of second homes for individuals, but rather for residences held in company names and used to produce income. “The bank does a lot of foreign national financing for folks that want a home they can live in eventually, but that can generate income now,” Fernandez-Guzman says.

The other side of international banking for Pacific National are “businesses or persons who want to maintain an account, sometimes for safety and sometimes for paying their bills through a U.S. account,” says the CEO. This includes keeping small accounts that clients use to pay for the management of their commercial properties.

One thing the bank does not do is trade finance. “Over the years, the letter-of-credit business has gone away,” says Fernandez-Guzman. “We used to do it a lot, but we rarely provide that kind of lending now. Trying to maintain compliance [for trade finance] became too difficult.”

Leaving those activities to banks that specialize in trade finance hasn’t hurt the bank’s bottom line, however. Last year they crested $1 billion in assets.