Miami, the Next Singapore: Making the Case

There is a lot to Miami ‒ and more broadly speaking, to South Florida ‒ than tourism and real estate.

Art Basel has given us bragging rights as a cultural crossroads. eMerge has given us the confidence to envision an emerging technology nexus. And more than 1,000 multinational company offices, together with Miami’s bustling international trade, unquestionably make South Florida an international business gateway.

But lately, we have also begun to tout our credentials as a hotbed for financial services, a Singapore of the Americas.

So, it is only fair to ask: Does Miami, a.k.a. South Florida, really have the chops to be taken seriously as a financial services hub? Or is it just a lot of wannabe chatter?  Until now, the case for Miami as a budding financial polestar has rested largely on anecdotal evidence. Sure, new firms have been setting up shop. Scout Ventures, a New York-based venture capital firm, recently opened an office in Miami, and hedge fund Universa Investments moved its headquarters from Southern California to Coconut Grove. But at the same time, other financial firms ‒ such as Canada’s RBC Wealth Management and Britain’s Lloyds TSB Bank ‒ have left town.

So, anecdotally, it’s a tie.

For a change, let’s forget the anecdotes and allow the numbers to do the talking, starting with the most basic one of all: How many financial services firms do we have in South Miami? The answer to that question, simple as it sounds, turns out to be rather complex.

For starters, financial services firms come in a variety of species, most of them kissing cousins. There are commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds, mutual funds, asset managers, private equity firms, broker dealers, real estate investment funds, wealth management firms, private banks and family offices.

Databases, such as IPREO, Pitchbook, Thomson ONE, are a good point of departure for analyzing this maze, but often the databases don’t agree on how to categorize the firms. Compounding the confusion, firms sometimes categorize themselves differently than do the databases. Unsure of one firm’s lineage, we asked its CEO “So are you a private equity firm or a family office?” The answer: “We’re hedge fund.” Aha!

Beyond the often murky boundaries between venture capital and private equity, between multi-family offices and wealth management firms, are two distorting characteristics of the money business: mystery and bravado.

On the one hand, South Florida, from Miami to the Palm Beaches, has long been a magnet for wealthy global citizens, many of whom would prefer not to appear on anyone’s radar. On the other hand, there are plenty of investment advisors, who are more than happy to embellish their investment banking credentials, or wealth managers eager to exaggerate their importance.

So, first, we had to acknowledge that some pools of investment money being managed in South Florida will defy detection. And second, we had to weed out marginal players by applying minimum standards for inclusion in the hedge fund count, the investment bank club, the list of international banks, etc.

Even so, coming up with accurate numbers for the different segments of the South Florida financial services industry was a cumbersome process. But once we felt comfortable with our figures, we asked experts in each of the industry segments to validate them.

The results are presented in the accompanying infographic. South Florida is home to 50 community banks, 59 international banks, 60 hedge funds, 63 wealth management firms, 19 private equity firms, 13 investment banks, and more than 200 family offices, not to mention a few upstart venture capital firms, a $7 billion mutual fund and more real estate investment funds than we even dared to count.

Is that a lot? Does that make Miami a financial services hub? By all indications, it does. That’s not to say Miami is in the same league as New York. But it does deserve to be in the conversation. But this begs another question: How do South Florida’s numbers stack up against those of Chicago, San Francisco, L.A., Houston?

That is the next challenge. Stay tuned.

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