By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Leno Corporate Services is aiming to close 2019 with over $800m in assets under administration following today's expected completion of its Bank of The Bahamas trust acquisition.
Sean Longley, Leno's founder and president, told Tribune Business yesterday that the financial services provider was "in aggressive expansion mode" as it bids to offer a "full suite" of products to both Bahamian and international clients.
Confirming that Leno is the buyer for Bank of The Bahamas' trust portfolio, which contained almost $103m in assets under administration at end-June 2019, Mr Longley said expansion into Asia was also "in the pipeline" ahead of the provider's 10th anniversary next July.
Leno has hired Diane Bingham, who previously headed Bank of The Bahamas' trust operation, to run it once the purchase closes. And it has further expanded its talent pool by engaging Brian Jones, a highly-regarded Bahamian executive previously with UBS (Bahamas) and Deltec Bank & Trust, to oversee its international and domestic investment funds business.
Besides its expansion through acquisition, Mr Longley confirmed that Leno is also currently constructing a new 50,000 square foot, five-storey headquarters building just off Collins Avenue near the NUA (Nassau Underwriters) head office.
Declining to reveal the investment in its head office, he added that the group was seeking to complete the integration of the Bank of The Bahamas trust portfolio and other recent acquisitions before year-end so it can "hit the ground running" in 2020.
Mr Longley said Leno had obtained the necessary trust licence to acquire the Bank of The Bahamas business from the Central Bank on July 26. "It should be closed by tomorrow [today]," he told Tribune Business of the deal, declining to reveal the purchase price.
"That's being purchased through an entity called Leno Trust, which is licensed and regulated by the Central Bank. We would have hired Diane Bingham, and she's going to be the managing director of that company. She's been working feverishly to get the deal done."
Mr Longley revealed that the acquisition occurred by chance, explaining: "I was already in the process last year of talking to one of my partners in Latin America, and he said: 'Sean, can you do trust business?' I said: 'I think we can, but we have to apply for a trust licence'.
"I put it on hold until January as we were working on the Family Guardian deal, but we started a new fund and looked for a custodian. We approached Bank of The Bahamas and they said they were getting out of the trust business. I said: 'Look, man, let me make a proposal'. I was lucky."
The Leno chief added that the Bank of The Bahamas acquisition would take the group's workforce to 17, and this was likely to expand further in January as its investment funds business ramped up. But staff numbers are unlikely to "go beyond 25" due to Leno's reliance on technology to drive its business.
The $103m in trust assets add to the $80m which Leno acquired earlier this year via the purchase of Family Guardian's pensions and capital markets business, thereby enabling the group to build scale and critical mass.
"We're in aggressive mode," Mr Longley confirmed. "We will have been 10 years in business by next July. We've come a long way and are trying to put everything in place for 2020 so that we hit the ground running.
"All the integration will be complete by the end of this year, and we will be in good stead. We should have in excess of $800m in assets under administration by then. There are other pieces of business we would have gotten organically that have brought in some huge assets for us. My goal is to be, by year 10m at $1bn."
Both the Bank of The Bahamas and Family Guardian transactions give Leno increased scale to compete against previously-larger rivals in the Bahamian capital markets, such as RoyalFidelity Merchant Bank & Trust, CFAL (Colina Financial Advisors) and Providence Advisors.
"That's the whole idea: Competing and beating the competition," Mr Longley said. "We want to be able to provide potential clients, and clients, with another alternative in the local market as opposed to the competitors out there.
"We want to be the premier financial institution here locally; I know it's a tall tail, but we have to try. For the international market, we want to grow beyond our borders. There are things in the pipeline that I don't want to talk about now, but we are looking at expanding into Asia. There are a lot of things we are working on trying to do."
Detailing Leno's international ambitions, he added: "We're looking at it as one strategy where we offer a full suite of financial services. We're looking to be big players in the Latin American market through funds and trusts. We want to build the trusts but move abroad."
Mr Longley said both Mr Jones and Ms Bingham added the international expertise Leno needs, with each having bought into his vision for the business. Mr Jones' main role will be to build both Leno's fledgling international investment funds business and its domestic counterpart.
"We're limited here in The Bahamas," the Leno chief explained. "There's only so much capital you can actually draw on. For the most part that's where the money is, internationally, and we have to be where the money is."
Mr Longley said Leno's Asian ambitions were focused largely on the Chinese city of Shanghai, where the group had located a Bahamian citizen fluent in Mandarin to head up its planned operation.
"We've put that on hold," he revealed. "We want her to come to the office here to learn all areas of the business. That's just on hold until next year, August/September."
Leno, though, is rapidly moving ahead on constructing its new head office as it seeks to move from its current location in Bernard Road's Pineapple Plaza near the junction with Soldier and Village Roads.
"We were pushing for the 10th anniversary but are looking more at October/November next year," Mr Longley said of the anticipated completion. "It was always a vision I had. I wanted my own office complex as opposed to renting for the rest of my life. It's a 50,000 square foot building with five storeys, and the vision was to take a floor and rent out the rest to other people."