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Who is the Colombian Billionaire Taking a High Stakes Punt on Metro Bank?

The Colombian banking tycoon Jaime Gilinski Bacal is known for taking a gamble. Now one of the wealthiest people in Latin America, worth a reported $5.3bn (£4.3bn), Bacal built his name snapping up the assets of struggling lenders on the cheap, turning around their fortunes and selling them on for a big profit.

“There is a moment in life when you have to take all of the risk, just put all of the cards on the table,” Bacal has said, according to Forbes.

And take a risk, he did. Three years after first building a stake in Metro Bank, the 65-year-old has emerged as a white knight for the UK high street lender, scooping up more than £100m of shares to build a 53% controlling stake.

He learned a trick or two watching his father, Isaac, build up big companies, including the Latin American snack food maker Yupi and the plastics business Rimax. Later, the Georgia Tech and Harvard business school alumni got a taste for deals after snagging a postgraduate gig with Morgan Stanley’s merger and acquisitions unit in the early 1980s.

He took a formal leap into the banking business a decade later, acquiring the Colombian assets of BCCI after its global collapse in 1991. A restructuring and management revamp helped stem a run on its assets, and four years later he sold out for four times more than he had put in.

His growing success helped convince high-profile investors, including George Soros, to join him in a $375m takeover of Colombia’s largest lender, Banco de Colombia, from the national government in 1994. The lucrative deal would eventually net the tycoon about $800m as he sold down his shares over the following decade.

Bacal – who has four children and previously lived in London with his wife, Raquel – later broadened his horizons, even teaming with the British real estate billionaire brothers Ian and Richard Livingstone, in 2015, to develop property on a former US air force base alongside the Panama Canal.

He started edging closer to the UK high street when he became the largest shareholder in TSB’s Spanish owner, Banco Sabadell, in 2013 but he sold down the stake three years later.

So it was a surprise when in 2019 he took an initial 4.3% stake in the high street-focused Metro Bank via his British Virgin Island-based investment vehicle Spaldy, making him the third largest shareholder.

Metro had been struggling in the wake of a major accounting blunder, having miscalculated how much capital it should hold against its risk. Investors dumped shares and fearful customers pulled their cash but Bacal saw an opportunity.

Six months later, he doubled his holding to 9%, triggering rumours about a potential takeover of Metro. He replaced the American hedge fund boss Steve Cohen as the company’s largest investor.

Bacal eventually leveraged that position last autumn when he secured a seat on the Metro board for his daughter Dorita Gilinski, who launched Colombia’s first digital lender, Lulo Bank, to represent his investment.

With regulators clambering for a rescue package for the embattled lender over the weekend, Bacal took another risk, tabling a major bet on high street banking.

Neither Spaldy nor Bacal could be reached for comment.

Source : The Guardian