The Rise Of The Super-Regionals

Banks are ramping up services to meet client needs.

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In recent years, the distinction between regional banks and global banks has narrowed. Some banks that have historically regarded themselves as regional players are setting their sights higher, looking to expand their geographical footprint, beef up their capabilities and serve international clients more effectively.

ANZ is a good example. Seven years ago, Mike Smith, the bank’s CEO, launched a push into Asia.

“This path has now become an industry trend, driven by the changing market and corporate needs,” says Carole Berndt, ANZ’s managing director of global transaction banking. DBS has recently followed, as has the US regional bank Comerica. Both are expanding their reach across nations.

Customer demand is a key reason why. “Middle-market companies are becoming more sophisticated in their needs, which is forcing banks to ramp up their capabilities,” says Christine Barry, research director at Aite Group.

As corporations themselves range further afield, their needs grow more complex and they seek greater coverage from their existing banks. According to the 2015 CFO Outlook, a recent survey of US-based CFOs by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, more than half of companies either already have international initiatives in place or are planning to start them. Of those companies operating internationally, most are doing business in more than one region.

“As companies start doing business in other places, they may need to switch institutions,” says Berndt. “So with regional banks offering greater coverage, treasurers are able to limit the number of bank relationships that they need and work with institutions that already understand their businesses.”

Regulatory change is another driver for the rise of super-regionals. “Macro trends in the industry, specifically the increasing cost of regulatory compliance and capital, have meant that not even the largest banks can continue to be everything, everywhere, and be the best at it,” says ANZ’s Berndt. “Spreading yourself too thin can result in being average everywhere, but being great nowhere.”

She says banks can be exposed to heightened regulatory and operational risk and burden themselves with untenable costs.

Adopting a super-regional banking approach may be more suitable for some companies than others. On the one hand, super-regionals may offer deeper market knowledge and closer engagement with regulators than their larger counterparts. On the other, super-regional banks by definition lack the geographical footprint of truly global banks, so multinational companies may find they need to work with a small group of banks rather than a single bank.

That said, many companies already choose to work with multiple banks in order to diversify counterparty risk. Finding specific banks that offer the required capabilities in their respective markets may be a more pressing concern—and super-regional banks are gaining ground in this area.

That’s owing to their ability to access the enhanced capabilities of technology providers, even when they don’t have the big IT budgets needed to build their own infrastructure. For corporates, this is translating into greater availability of services, including international payment capabilities, trade finance and foreign exchange—areas that have historically been offered only by the largest global banks.

The ‘super-regional’ moniker is not just a question of geographic footprint.

It “is the right model for today’s environment, but the key to it working is connectivity,” says Berndt. “A super-regional that cannot connect with industry systems and standards, or that doesn’t have an open and integrated approach to partnerships, is not a super-regional.”