IN a city of global high finance structures, a city with a heart that literally beats to the rhythm of exchange fluctuations and big money transactions, pumping billions through its countless financial networks and institutions each day, the thought of a bank from Spain muscling in the market might surprise some. But muscling in is just what Santander Investment intends to do and the leading financial group in Spain, ranked 51st in the world in terms of assets, is not short of the muscle to do it. Already, with just two years in Hong Kong, Santander has expanded, with bases in Singapore, Manila, Sydney, Taipei, Beijing and Shanghai. 'Our strategy is to have a fully-fledged investment bank set up within five years,' said Santander's Asia regional manager and managing director, Ho Teck-cheong. 'We realise that it takes time to build up a team and a network, which is why we have decided not to try to do everything initially and put the wrong image to the market. 'In Hong Kong, we have started with structured finance and risk management and, over time, with a bigger team, we will go into other services.' 'The principal benefit,' added Hong Kong's country manager and managing director, Joseph Lai, 'of being a part of our institution is that we have the resources as well as the solutions. 'In this part of the world the competition is extreme and only the niche players will survive. 'We are convinced that European corporations are taking note of Asian activities and, through our global networks our AA balance sheet and large capital base, we are in a position to cement our own place.' Mr Ho said Santander aimed to form strategic alliances with other companies. 'In Europe, for example, we have a 13 per cent cross-shareholding with the Royal Bank of Scotland and, in the United States, we are the largest shareholder of Metropolitan Life Insurance,' he said. 'The staff we have chosen in Asia are well-known professionals with the aim of extracting funds from Europe and into Asia.' According to the Santander executives, development of infrastructure projects, in particular, will become a major target for investment in Asia. Roads, bridges, railroads and power plants were all areas where companies with the right expertise could target profitable joint ventures with developing Asian nations, using local Asian companies as joint partners. 'We aim to provide structured finance to assist with the development of these projects, but we also believe risk management is important,' Mr Ho said. 'A lot of countries are keen to invest but are unsure of the maturity of some of the markets they would be moving in, so our risk management capabilities will assist.' Globally, the bank's services included corporate finance, brokering, treasury and capital markets, distribution, derivatives and structured products, research, asset management and private banking. In Hong Kong, the Asian headquarters for Santander's Asia-Pacific penetration, the bank's initial focus has been structured financing and risk management. Santander was founded as an issuing bank in 1857 in the northern city of Santander. The bank started with a staff of 13, which has grown to more than 40,000 in 31 countries on every continent. Originally, there were 72 merchant and businessmen shareholders with a capital of five million 'Reales de Vellon', the precursor to the peseta. Today, there were more than 250,000 shareholders listed with the bank. During the 1970s, the bank expanded internationally into several European countries and America. Santander opened branhes in London, Paris, Frankfurt and New York and offices in Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Uruguay and Sao Paulo.