The board of Bank Hapoalim approved continuing negotiations to acquire Geneva based New York-Inter Maritime Bank for NIS 400-600 million, yesterday. Swiss-Israeli financier Bruce Rappaport controls Bank of New York-Inter Maritime Bank, in which Bank of New York also holds a stake. The Swiss bank specializes in private banking and operates several branches and representative offices in Moscow, Montevideo, Sidney, and Hong Kong.
The bank registered profits over SF 2 million (NIS 7.5-8 million) in each of 2002 and 2003. Bank Hapoalim chairman Shlomo Nehama said yesterday that "the investigations and the negotiations to purchase a bank in Switzerland comprise an additional step in Hapoalim's integration within the globalization process, the penetration of markets abroad, and increasing our international market share. This process is in step with our multi-year strategy, which the board approved this year."
Bank Hapoalim has labored for several years to identify banks it could acquire in Europe. In the past, it explored the possibility of buying banks in Eastern Europe but arrived at the conclusion that it had no relative advantage in these states.
Private banking is a less risky field because it depends primarily on obtaining deposits from clients and managing their investments.
The most significant step Bank Hapoalim has taken in the international field was to establish Signature Bank in New York four years ago. The bank, which specializes in private banking, debuted on Wall Street a few months ago and already trades at a market cap of $882 million.
Purchasing the Swiss bank is likely to assist Hapoalim strengthen its position in Europe. "We did it in the American capital markets by founding Signature in New York and launching its successful IPO on Nasdaq," said Nehama, "and now we hope to do likewise in Switzerland, one of the distinguished and important financial centers in West Europe."
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