The Seas Beyond: International Expansion
Oceanic trade was second nature to the directors of the Merchants' Bank of Halifax whose geographic isolation from the rest of British North America cemented strong southern and eastern trade relations. The culmination of the Spanish-American War in 1898 and North America's growing appetite for Caribbean sugar and molasses turned the Merchants' Bank's attention to the fabled Cuban sugar fields. Upon the advice of Edson Pease, the bank opened a branch in Havana in 1899 and because Cuban sugar depended on the American market, an agency was opened in New York in the same year.
Royal Bank quickly solidified its presence throughout the Caribbean and West Indies. The Cuban network was strengthened with the 1903 acquisition of Banco de Oriente of Santiago de Cuba and Havana's Banco del Comercio in 1904. In rapid succession, branches were opened in Puerto Rico (1907), Bahamas (1908), Trinidad (1910), Jamaica (1911), Dominican Republic and Belize (1912), and Grenada and British Guiana (1913). Since the trade and foreign exchange activities of many of these colonies were focused in Europe and particularly in England, Royal Bank opened a branch in London in 1910. Additional branches were opened in Dominica, Antigua and St. Kitts (1915), Nevis, Montserrat and Tobago (1917), Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti (1919) and St. Lucia (1920). To facilitate trade between Europe and the French colonies, a branch was opened in Paris in 1919. Subsequent branches were opened in St. Vincent (1959) and the Caymen Islands (1964).
The framework of Royal Bank's extensive Caribbean branch network, largely in place by 1920, provided a positive stimulus to the economic development of an area that was predominantly under-banked. The bank's early success in the Caribbean can be attributed to its treatment of these branches as an integral part of its Canadian network.