WHEN Amram Lador opened Bank Hapoalim's new representative office in Jardine House last year, it was only the first step. Israel's largest financial institution took its time getting to Hong Kong. But now it has arrived. Mr Lador said the bank's role was liaison, acting as 'an embassy for the head office', promoting trade with Israel and correspondent relations with Tel Aviv. He is also assessing the potential of the territory and the region. 'The bank is studying business opportunities for its international network,' Mr Lador said. In the longer term, if the bank decides Hong Kong fits in with its international strategy - and the Hong Kong authorities permit it - opening a branch in the territory was 'something to consider'. The bank's presence in Hong Kong is a sign Israel is taking Asia seriously. Bank Hapoalim is a serious institution, with about US$40 billion in assets, more than 330 branches in Israel and branches, representative offices and subsidiaries in 17 countries. Last year's net profit of US$175 million made 1994 the most profitable in the bank's 74-year history. It was a 24 per cent improvement on 1993 and represented a return on equity of more than 10 per cent. Mr Lador said wherever the bank went customers were bound to follow.