Fortis Bank, Europe's 15th-largest bank based on total assets, has embarked on a HK$100 million rebranding exercise in Hong Kong as part of a bid to expand its retail-customer base in the region. Fortis, which acquired Belgian Bank in June 1998, will use Hong Kong as its headquarters for its North Asia expansion strategy. Herman Verwilst, chairman of the European-based banking, insurance and investment group, said: 'To achieve the strategic objective of significant growth, we are looking to expand by organic growth and by acquisition in Hong Kong and the region.' Mr Verwilst said the group was focused on expanding its long-established consumer, commercial and corporate banking franchise in the region and on becoming a leading global player in specialist areas such as financial markets, private banking and information banking. Yesterday, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium opened the first Fortis branch, in Central. The renaming is part of a programme to upgrade and strategically relocate the old Belgian Bank's 30-branch network. Karel de Boeck, chairman of Fortis Bank Asia HK and managing director of Fortis Bank, said Asia was the bank's top priority outside of its home base of Europe. '[Although] we see tighter margins throughout the banking industry, and we are operating in competitive markets, we see tremendous opportunities in Hong Kong and the region,' he said. Georges Legros, chief executive, North Asia, said the bank, which has a market capitalisation of US$30 billion, would be rolling out a number of technology related initiatives within the year including electronic and Internet banking services in September. 'Working with Cable & Wireless HKT and the Hong Kong stock exchange, we will also be offering customers the means to trade securities on-line through four channels before the end of the year: our branches, our call centre, the Internet and mobile phones,' he said. Clarence Cheung, general manager-commercial, said the bank would be targeting a relatively untapped niche in Hong Kong with products characterising family values. Mr Cheung said that during the bank's 65 years in Hong Kong it had witnessed the growth of a generation. The bank, which has traditionally focused on commercial banking, would therefore position itself to offer financial services ranging from help with school fees to care of the elderly. 'We are not just transactional,' Mr Cheung said. 'We want to build a relationship for a lifetime.' Belgian Bank, established in Hong Kong in 1935, employs 1,250 staff.