In this post-financial-crisis world, banks and financial institutions must ensure compliance with a piling number of requirements while meeting increasingly high standards. Due to industry-wide shifts, one group has especially suffered: foreign nationals. FaceBank was created to serve this group.
“We don’t want to conquer the world all at once,” says Julio Carbonell, CEO and general manager at FaceBank International Corporation in Puerto Rico. FaceBank started operations targeting customers from Venezuela (Venezuelans still make up 75 percent of its clients), extending later to customers from Argentina and Uruguay. Today, it holds about $160 million in assets, comparable to a midsize community bank. Its next step is to expand its reach and also serve clients from Peru and Colombia.
Even before the financial crisis hit, Carbonell was aware that foreign nationals were generally underserved by local banks. In 2003, Carbonell founded Florida Home Trust in an effort to serve Latin American foreign nationals living in South Florida. In 2008, after an investor came on board, FaceBank opened its doors in Puerto Rico.
FaceBank has been successful thanks to a two-pronged approach. First, its focus is narrow: The company offers a consolidated set of basic online banking services and products, such as wire transfers, time-deposit accounts, and debit and credit cards. In fact, FaceBank is a cashless institution with no intention of being the customer’s primary bank. “Small banks run into problems when they start trying to mimic large banks by offering everything,” Carbonell says. “Because we do so few things, we have the privilege of being really good at what we do.” In South Florida’s Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, for example, FaceBank focuses on being able to offer clients options for applying for home loans.
Secondly, the institution thrives internationally by being able to rely on business development facilitators (BDFs). This is one way FaceBank is able to thoroughly serve its clients; BDFs are located in the same regions as customers. They are not employees of the bank, but rather partners, entitled to 20 percent of what the company makes based on the number they bring in, Carbonell explains. FaceBank currently partners with 22 BDFs spread across the Latin American countries where FaceBank’s clients reside.
“The BDFs we work with are highly qualified—most have worked for banks in higher positions—and we have had a working relationship for years,” Carbonell says. “It is rare to find top performers who you can also trust, but we are not in a sprint race—we are in a marathon.”
FaceBank International Corporation
Headquartered: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Founded: January 2009
Global Reach: Facebank has offices in Puerto Rico, South Florida, and, in 2015, is opening an office in Montevideo, Uruguay. Facebank serves its clients in Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, and Colombia by partnering with business development facilitators (BDFs) in those regions.
BDF contributions are key for referrals, a major source of FaceBank’s growth. Very little is spent on advertising; with the goal of creating a brand image, the corporation chooses to advertise only at very specific locations where their clientele would be targeted, such as the Miami International Airport where an advertisement is strategically placed at the exit of customs.
“Forty-two million people go through [the airport’s] hallways. I’m only interested in the 100,000 coming from the countries that I serve,” Carbonell says.
Carbonell takes pride in offering “a private-bank style of service” to clients, and FaceBank appreciates customers with savings in hard currency, which is common in Latin America.
“It’s not only about A-class—we serve people with B- and C-income levels as well,” he says.
The focus on customer service is embedded on the organization’s culture. The system doesn’t implement computer-generated automatic responses. If a customer enters a contact number on the website in the event they aren’t able to connect with their personal BDF, someone will call them back within ten minutes—no matter where in the world they are.
Carbonell also takes pride in FaceBank’s low level of mortgage delinquency; in a region with an average of 2.4 percent of underperforming loans, FaceBank’s rate is only 1.29 percent.
“This means there is something we are definitely doing well,” he says.