WHEN it comes to dealing with private clients, Bank Brussels Lambert (BBL) has no objections if its approach is described as ''hand-holding''. Since the Belgian bank is a relatively small player in a growing field, it has focused on close relations and strong service to carve out a market niche. ''We are very closely involved with the customer,'' said Mr Bernard Hanin, BBL's chief representative in Hongkong, adding that this kind of service was essential because BBL's clients in Hongkong were ''active and extremely sophisticated'' and wanted regular updates on their portfolios. Competitive pressure, he added, was another factor because many clients in Hongkong used eight or nine financial institutions to handle their money and were not reluctant to switch to another private banker if they became unhappy with performance or service. BBL, which has had a representative office in Hongkong since 1986, beefed up its operations in February by registering a new private banking entity, BBL Finance (Hongkong) Ltd, with the Securities and Futures Commission. This allowed BBL to provide services such as currency deposits and asset management without the inconvenience of having to go through its branch offices in Singapore and Sydney. Mr Hanin said it was a logical step because many Hongkong investors were looking to allocate some of their money outside the territory and saw European banks as good vehicles to do this. BBL Finance, which requires a minimum investment of US$500,000, is aiming its services at professionals such lawyers and doctors. BBL, the second largest bank in Belgium with total assets of US$82 billion, has extensive retail banking operations in Europe but has gradually broadened its focus to encompass international markets, particularly the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to branch offices in Singapore and Sydney, BBL has representative offices in Hongkong, Bangkok, Jakarta, Tokyo, Seoul and Dubai, which essentially act as marketing arms. In Hongkong, BBL has been active in providing capital to Belgian firms, such as film maker AGFA-Gevert and Gan Denul, a dredging company involved in the airport project, and large international corporations with regional head offices in Hongkong. Among its most ambitious deals was participation in the Black Point power plant project with a US$28 million, 13-year loan. Mr Hanin, who was appointed chairman of the Hongkong Foreign Bank Representative Association in November, said this was a major step for BBL, which had previously limited its exposure to US$3 million to US$5 million over two-to three-year terms. ''It's quite unusual but the risk was excellent,'' he said. ''It has good terms, good names; Exxon and CAPCO; backed and approved by the mainland and supported by two international insurance companies.''