BELGIUM'S PROXIMITY TO Switzerland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Britain has long provided the Belgian banking sector with formidable competition on the continent. Venerable Belgian banks such as the Antwerp-based Argenta and the Brussels-based KBC Bank have generally confined their activities to a national level. However, Fortis, a broad-based financial institution headquartered in Brussels and Utrecht (in the Netherlands), has a global reach. In addition to its national network, the Benelux multinational has a presence in the booming economies of China and India, and other nations - Vietnam, Algeria and the Philippines, among others, and those in the developed world, such as France and South Korea. In Hong Kong, Fortis is well-positioned for the Asian region. To build on the rapid growth fuelled by robust Asian economies, Fortis Bank is widening its service and product offerings, and is expanding into new niche markets. 'Asia's booming economies have created enormous growth opportunities for the banking and financial services industries,' Fortis Bank chief executive - Banking Asia, David Yu, said. Fortis Bank provides a wide range of financial services in Hong Kong, including merchant banking, information banking and private wealth management to individuals, medium-sized enterprises and corporations. Mr Yu said Fortis avoided offering services in all banking sectors and instead concentrated on looking for niche markets where the firm could build on core competences. Developing niche markets included offering products and services not readily available in Asia, such as consumer financing, leasing and factoring business. These areas are already well-developed by Fortis in Europe. 'We are looking at the best way to develop these core competences,' Mr Yu said. The firm was experiencing accelerated growth organically and through forming strategic partnerships and selective acquisitions. He said that through growth and acquisitions the bank had developed important export and project finance activities in Asia. It also had substantial lending activities in Asia in sectors such as power, utilities, telecommunications and industrial infrastructure. Fortis is also active in export project finance and global markets, trading operation, clearing custody and fund administration in Hong Kong. Mr Yu said Fortis had also strengthened its wealth management services which had boosted the bank's capabilities of cross-selling products and services. Fortis Wealth Management division offers private individuals and organisations local and offshore discretionary investment management and advisory expertise. Mr Yu said the bank's investment professionals had considerable experience and a long, unbroken record of managing wealth for successive generations of private clients. The wealth management division operates with two types of business models: conventional private banking products and short-term trading options. 'We maintain the boutique-like qualities our clients expect, including tailored portfolios and personalised service,' Mr Yu said. 'Like other banks, we are finding it difficult to recruit sufficient talent to sustain the growing business. To maintain a competitive position, we are building a talent pool by investing in people to maintain long-term growth,' he said. The bank relies on its high standard of customer service and its international banking network to offer clients access to a full range of treasury and banking services - including cash management facilities, currency overlay, ad hoc financial solutions - and global custody including the added-value services of securities lending and equity financing. Formerly known as the Belgian Bank, Fortis Bank has been in Asia for 102 years offering merchant, private and insurance services. Fortis also has extensive experience in consulting, structuring and asset management in the philanthropic sector in Asia, serving more than 400 non-profit and charitable organisations around the world. Ranking among Europe's top 20 financial institutions, with a market capitalisation of Euro42 billion (HK$420.4 billion), a presence in 50 countries and a dedicated, professional workforce of 58,000, Fortis combines global strength with local flexibility. 'Our global cross-border network helps to facilitate [our] clients' smooth transactions of business and provides them with a wealth of solutions,' Mr Yu said. Fortis Bank Hong Kong is also the Asian regional hub of Fortis for global market products.