Japan’s SMBC Group shakes up leadership of its Americas unit

Japanese megabank Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation is shaking up the leadership ranks in its growing business unit in the Americas.

Hirofumi Otsuka will take over as chief executive at the New York-based business, the $2.18 trillion-asset company announced last month. Otsuka had been a top executive overseeing global business development outside of Japan for the previous two years. 

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation has named Hirofumi Otsuka as the chief executive, and Debbie Freer as the chief operating officer, of its Americas unit.


Otsuka is replacing Hiro Hyakutome, who had been CEO of the Americas unit since 2019 and will become the senior managing executive officer and group chief compliance officer for the wider company back in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Debbie Freer will take over as chief operating officer for the Americas unit, reporting to Otsuka. Freer is a former JPMorgan Chase executive who joined the Japanese company in 2019.

The two appointments come as SMBC Group is growing loans in its nearly 20 offices from the U.S. to Mexico and through South America. SMBC’s Americas unit reported about $108 billion in loan balances as of Dec. 31, up 7% from the previous year, according to its most recent financial filing.

Some foreign banks, particularly banks based in Canada, have been aggressively targeting some U.S. markets for expansion. But others, including Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, have been retreating.

Otsuka has been with SMBC since 1990, working in divisions from real estate to energy, public-private projects and emerging markets. He previously led mergers and acquisitions across several Asian markets. And he worked in the company’s Americas unit from 2004 to 2014, during which time he played a key role in establishing the SMBC’s Houston office, according to the company.

“Mr. Otsuka brings a wealth of experience to the Americas from his 32 years at SMBC,” Reuben Jeffery III, chairman of the board at SMBC Americas Holdings, said in an April 19 press release.

Freer joined SMBC three years ago as chief strategy officer and head of the strategy and transformation department, where she led efforts to establish a bank holding company structure.

“I hope to push us further on our journey to become a leading corporate and investment bank and to make our mark here in the Americas, with growth, teamwork, and client success,” Freer said in an April 29 press release.

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