To be atop one of the most successful banks in the world is a challenge. To be a woman with a proven track record of excellence in that high-profile role is something to be commended. A global citizen since birth, Frances Aldrich Sevilla-Sacasa was fortunate growing up to have family in Spain and throughout Latin America and Europe, which allowed her to travel and immerse herself in different languages and cultures from an early age. “From the beginning, I learned to appreciate diversity and develop an appetite for meeting and building relationships with interesting people from different cultures, nationalities and walks of life, something that I’ve been able to carry out throughout my international professional career,” she says.
As with many success stories, Frances’ rise to the top started at home. Her parents were born in Cuba and relocated to Spain in the early ‘50s before moving back to Cuba and then eventually to Miami to set down roots and give birth to Frances, who at that time already had 2 older brothers, one born in Havana, the other in Barcelona. Before coming to the U.S., her father had been a practicing attorney in Cuba, and immediately enrolled at University of Miami Law School upon arriving in the U.S., graduating from there a few years later due to the fact that he had to attend law school all over again because, in those days, a practicing attorney couldn’t merely get a revalidation of their degree. Her mother co-founded Centro Mater in Miami, a non-profit organization providing quality childcare and education services to economically disadvantaged families and also held posts at City Of Miami and Archdiocese Of Miami. “As is the case with most immigrants who have come to the U.S. and who struggle to assimilate in a new world and community — one which was not very diverse in the ‘50’s — my parents strongly believed in preserving and fostering our family’s traditions,” she says. They were also adamant about the power of education as a way to progress, make a difference and broaden horizons. “My parents taught by example, by showing us how working hard to earn a living was honorable and respectable,” she says. “Even at times when they were struggling to professionally transition into a new country, they always went out of their way to help others in need.”
Growing up in Miami Shores, she remembers being both an athlete and a student leader…but sports were definitely her true passion. “With older brothers who were active in athletics, it was only natural for me to be exposed to all kinds of sports from a very early age — not only the traditional ‘girl-type’ activities in those days like volleyball, cheerleading and tennis, but also basketball, football and baseball, and eventually skiing and hiking when I studied in Switzerland,” she says. “I very much enjoyed team sports and was very competitive when it came to the squads I played on, which I must admit, were always top teams. I believe that this experience was very important in my professional career as I’ve always enjoyed building top-notch teams and winning!”
Frances, who also always had a love for languages and culture, was fortunate to finish high school in a boarding school in Switzerland before returning to Miami to study French and Spanish at University of Miami with a Minor in Business. Upon graduating in the late ‘70s, she pursued her graduate degree at Thunderbird School Of Global Management in Arizona where she received her MBA and learned Portuguese. At the time, International Banking was just starting to boom with respect to Latin America, particularly in Miami, where many of the money center banks were setting up their international subsidiaries as a center for their Latin American business. Similarly, Downtown Miami and Brickell Ave. were just beginning to blossom as a gateway to Latin America from a banking perspective. Frances saw the opportunity and jumped on it. “I always knew that banking would allow me to combine the technical skillsets of my natural love of math and finance with softer attributes like building relationships that I’d been developing my entire life,” she says.
Naturally, when it was time to begin her career, staying in Miami was a no-brainer. “I remember visiting my father at his law offices in Downtown Miami when I was little,” she says. “In those days, there were no skyscrapers in the area and Brickell Ave. was made up of private homes. Little did I know that many years later I would be starting my career in the neighborhood and would make that my business home for the next 3 decades.” Since then, she’s held headquarters in several major buildings in the area everywhere from the original Southeast Bank Building to One Biscayne Tower, the Citibank Building, Chopin Plaza, the Espiritu Santo Building and most recently at Southeast Financial Center. “As a U.S.-born Hispanic, living and working in Miami has allowed me to effortlessly navigate multicultural environments and has equipped me to overcome the challenges I’ve had to face throughout my life and career,” she says. “As I’ve had to work in both Hispanic and American environments, at times I’m not considered as neither one nor the other, but that’s clearly an advantage in this day and age. Still today, women in finance at executive levels and in the boardroom are a minority, but I’m glad that this is slowly changing.”
Today, Frances has led premier U.S, and international wealth management organizations with global firms such as Bankers Trust Company, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup and Bank of America. In addition, she serves on corporate boards and non-for-profit boards, and she and her husband of 30 years are also active in philanthropic and community activities like PAMM, Miami City Ballet, American Red Cross, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens and Archdiocese of Miami. Currently, she serves as CEO of Banco Itaú Europa International, a Miami-based international subsidiary of Banco Itaú, the largest bank in Brazil, Latin America and one of the largest in the world in terms of market capitalization. She also serves as a Trust Manager for Camden Property Trust — a publicly-traded real estate investment trust — and as a Trustee for Delaware Investments Family of Funds.
With a vision to be the leading bank in sustainable performance and customer satisfaction, Itaú’s strategy is to firmly become the global Latin American bank…and part of Frances’ mandate is to help that become a reality. Itaú — which currently owns one of the largest Latin American private art collections and has a foundation dedicated to the development of the arts in various countries throughout South America — provided a substantial sponsorship to the newly opened PAMM, which is set to be a beacon of Miami’s arts & culture renaissance.
Frances says that aside from their extensive commitment to the community, one of the reasons she enjoys her current post so much is that Itaú believes in an open environment where people can interact with one another in a fluid and engaging environment of communication. “There are no physical barriers or walls between employees; the few internal walls we have are glass, promoting an atmosphere of openness and transparency,” she says. “Like the bank, I believe in having no hierarchical barriers so that employees at all levels can feel comfortable interacting with senior management.”
As one would imagine, there’s no “typical” day in Frances’ job. “I travel often to visit our head office in Brazil and the various offices throughout The Caribbean, Latin America and other countries…meeting with clients in Miami and in their home countries is also part of my routine,” she says. “I always have my iPad, iPhone and passport ready to take with me anywhere in the world to ‘seal the deal’.” With so much globetrotting and business to be made, surely she has some interesting stories to share. “Through my role, I’ve met various world leaders, celebrities, athletes, luminaries, royalty and highly successful executives and entrepreneurs, all of whom I’ve learned a lot from,” she says. “But of course, in the world of wealth management, relationships are kept confidential!”
In the end, no matter how many milestones she reaches or how successful her brands become, one thing’s certain: Miami will always be her professional homebase. “It’s amazing to me what the city has — and continues — to become,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see how the Downtown neighborbood has transformed into a vibrant urban live/work/play community that attracts young professionals and families from every corner of the globe — we have truly become “The Manhattan Of The South”…I always tell my children that I’d love to be in their shoes and experience the next 30 years of what lies ahead, but right now I’m just thrilled to still be an active part of the community while enjoying the energy and evolution blossoming all around us.”