Bank of America story updated from 4:46 p.m. with additional details in third and fifth paragraphs.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Bank of America's (BAC) corporate and investment banking chief emphasized the institution's size-related advantages during a presentation Tuesday, in what could be seen as a rebuttal to critics who argue the largest U.S. banks need to be broken up.
"The competitive environment has changed significantly," Christian Meissner, head of global corporate and investment banking (GCIB), told attendees at a Deutsche Bank financial services conference. He contended there are only a few "global players who compete as we do across the waterfront." While he conceded Bank of America hasn't yet fully benefited from this shift, Meissner argues that will change.
Speaking of Bank of America's ability to "follow our U.S. clients as they expand outside the U.S.," Meissner said "this has been one of the great, I think, strengths of the firm over the last number of years and as much as we're able to use our infrastructure that we have built through GCIB outside the U.S. to do a lot more with our existing client base here in the U.S. as well." Wells Fargo (WFC) has articulated a similar strategy for growing international growth.
While M&A in the U.S. and Canada has rebounded, deal activity has lagged internationally, Meissner said.
"If you go back to before the financial crisis, about 60% of our total fee pool was outside the U.S. At the moment, it's in the mid-40s. So it's clearly a big shift that is going to happen over the next number of years, we believe."
To take advantage of that shift, Bank of America will attempt to "connect the dots in terms of different product opportunities," Meissner said. Those go beyond "obvious" things like providing financing or hedging to a client making an acquisition. One not-so-obvious example he provided is "in certain currencies offering escrow services to a transaction to facilitate in the closing." While Meissner conceded that business "doesn't sound particularly sexy" he argued it is "incredibly profitable," adding "that's not something we would have thought of three or four years ago, but today is part of our core offering."
Meissner also noted an important shift in the bank's global transaction services unit, also known as treasury services.
We've been and are now at the tail-end of a multiyear program to really change the way our treasury business looks. If you go back three, four, five years ago, you would have said mostly U.S.-based, U.S. clients, and mostly focused on the dollar, not surprisingly. We've really tried to change that to make it a global business and also to invest in the technology and the capacity to be multi-currency and multi-product. Again, we're not quite done with that process yet, but it's largely complete, and it's something that's been a very, very big initiative for us and I think something that will pay off for a long period of time.
Meissner also said Bank of America has become more focused, reducing the number of clients it serves to roughly 5000 in 2013 from more than 11,000 in 2010.
"Our bankers were spending their time on too many small opportunities," the executive explained.
The $4 billion error, which forced Bank of America to resubmit its proposals for raising its dividend and buying back shares Tuesday, gave further fuel to big bank critics who say large financial institutions need to be broken up.
The error follows closely on the heels of Citigroup's (C) discovery of fraud in its Mexican lending business, a factor which may have contributed to the bank seeing its capital plan rejected by the Federal Reserve. Those mistakes are only the latest in a litany of post-crisis problems, including the JPMorgan Chase (JPM) "London Whale" trading debacle, that are regularly cited by proponents of bank breakups.
Those proponents include not just academics and politicians such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), but also observers who are much closer to the industry, such as financial services-focused investment bank Keefe Bruyette and Woods (KBW).
A recent KBW report argued investors in the largest banks would benefit from a breakup, but executives are incentivized to remain large because it allows them to reap bigger compensation packages.