by Jeff Zbar
For years, Latin American and U.S. executives who sought bankers sophisticated in international finance bypassed Miami and went straight to New York.
But when thousands of professionals with the Castro revolution fled Cuba for Miami, they brought international sophistication with them. Bankers, attorneys, and accountants arrived versed in hemispheric and global business and finance.
“International banking in South Florida has become so significant that Brickell Avenue was dubbed ‘Wall Street South’ by Forbes in 2015,” says David Schwartz, president and CEO of the Florida International Bankers Association.
Banking, finance, and professional service providers like attorneys and accountants have turned Miami and South Florida into centers of international expertise. Multinational banks’ names speak to the geographies from which they hail: Banco do Brasil Americas, Banco de Bogotá, Banco de Crédito del Perú, Banco de la Nación Argentina, among scores of other international and U.S. institutions.
From Miami through Fort Lauderdale and the Palm Beaches, a central location in the hemisphere, coupled with a highly skilled and diverse pool of professional talent, has attracted entrepreneurs, business leaders, and families from Latin America, Europe, and Asia seeking U.S. market expertise.
Turbulence abroad creates opportunities in South Florida and the U.S. An appreciating U.S. dollar and the devaluation of local currencies are forcing individuals to search for a financial safe haven. Miami and South Florida are “viewed overseas as a critical international gateway, especially in Latin America and Europe,” says Mara Suarez, executive vice president with City National Bank of Florida, which in 2015 was acquired by Banco de Crédito e Inversiones of Chile.
While Miami is the state’s financial capital, over the past decade, South Florida has grown from serving the Latin American community to also being a strong alternative to New York among Europeans looking for banking services in the U.S., says Eddy Arriola, chairman and CEO of Apollo Bank.
“We find that international clients want to bank in Florida because of the region’s expertise with international markets, and they trust the transparency of the U.S. banking system,” he says.
Along with the bankers, professional service providers bring unique global expertise. A generation ago, individual investors needed the counsel of skilled accountants. Today, they’ve been joined by multinational corporations transacting cross-border business, says Miguel “Mike” Farra, with accounting firm MBAF.
In the last 20 years, Farra has looked out his Brickell Avenue window and watched the skyline change. Investors have arrived, the buildings have risen, South Florida cachet has grown — as has his international tax practice for clients from Miami to Orlando.
“They’re making this their base in the United States,” he says.
When the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office charged British bank Barclays and Roger Jenkins, its former chairman of investment banking for the Middle East, and others with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation in relation to fundraising efforts, Jenkins turned to lawyer Brad Kaufman, copresident of Greenberg Traurig. The attorney has called his work the ”globalization of law.”
With 2,100 attorneys in 42 offices worldwide, including the Americas, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, Milan, and Tel Aviv, Greenberg Traurig reflects the scope and quality of law firms available to clients across the region, says Yosbel Ibarra, co-managing shareholder of the firm’s Miami office and co-chair of its Latin American and Iberian practice.
Today, “everything everyone does touches on some aspect of international,” he says. “There are very few transactions that don’t have some international component.”