The leading banks over the past 12 months from the Americas.
Argentina’s struggling economy was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. During 2020, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by nearly 10%, marking the third straight year of recession. While mid-2021 has shown signs of recovery, GDP is still 3.3% below pre-pandemic levels and uncertainty remains around a restructuring plan to make the country’s debt sustainable.
Despite these challenging operating conditions, Santander maintained its leading positions in several key markets, with notable first positions in consumer loans as well as total deposits from the private sector. Fortified by its healthy asset quality and low rate of non-performing loans, the bank holds a strong position to weather the challenges of Argentina’s continuing economic woes.
For several years, Santander has been undergoing a digital and cultural transformation with the aim of moving towards a simpler and more efficient operating model. Its product offerings have also been refined to meet the specific needs of several customer segments. For example, Getnet gives merchants a personalised, low-commission service to receive payments. In addition, niche segments, such as healthcare and public administration, are being served with newly launched banking products.
“The pandemic accelerated our cultural transformation, putting us where, when and how our customers want us to be,” says country head Alejandro Butti. “While our branches still provide face-to-face customer service, we have the highest rated financial services app in Argentina, and 80% of our sales are digital.”
In response to economic disruption inflicted by Covid-19, Santander established Argentina’s first framework for granting social loans tied to the International Capital Market Association’s Social Bond Principles 2020. More than 60bn pesos ($600m) in social loans were granted to small and medium-sized enterprises for salary and working capital payments. Santander also collaborated with government agencies to ensure that its clients received social security payments.
“Our aim is to continue building the best financial services platform,” says Mr Butti. “In the past year, we’ve launched our new businesses Getnet, Santander Consumer and Superdigital. Our digital bank, Openbank, will be fully operational in 2022. We will focus on the customer; drive profitable growth and operational excellence; and capture and retain talent.”
Digital transformation remains the cornerstone of Scotiabank Bahamas’s strategic focus. During the review period, the bank was the first in its market to convert three of its branches to a digital operating model. Day-to-day transactions are facilitated by automated banking machines (ABMs), freeing up branch staff to deal with more complex customer queries and offer financial planning advice and solutions. To address anticipated concerns from the senior citizen community, a special online portal with tutorials was set up alongside in-branch tutoring and a media campaign.
Scotiabank possess the largest fleet of ABMs in the country, with a total of 79 machines across its network.
The bank continues to focus on technology, with the launch of its upgraded mobile app, which now offers fund transfers between customer and third-party loan accounts, and the increased availability of account and card usage controls. Following the introduction of ScotiaCard, a widescale replacement programme of customer debit cards was undertaken. The new cards use chip-and-PIN and contactless technology, and every purchase made – in store, online or by phone – is backed by the bank’s zero-liability protection.
Despite the significant economic challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the bank was able to offer a three-month loan deferral scheme that assisted more than 33,000 of its retail banking customers. In terms of commercial lending, the bank eased access to liquidity as well as extended moratoriums and restructuring arrangements for its clients whose businesses were hit hardest by the pandemic.
Roger Archer, managing director of Scotiabank Bahamas, says: “We have significantly accelerated our digital strategy in order to meet the evolving preferences of our customers for increasingly more digital and self-service options. During this, our 65th anniversary in the Bahamas, we are very proud of our current advancements and the opportunities that we are creating to offer more personalised solutions and assistance for our customers in the future.”
He continues: “We are cognisant that, as we go forward, our customers will expect an even more seamless banking experience from anywhere they are located, and so we are organising our operations to meet these expectations.”
Scotiabank Barbados believes that the long-term success of its business is strongly intertwined with the community it serves. For the past 12 years, the bank has committed to funding scholarships at the University of the West Indies, providing equal access to education for students in financial hardship across the Caribbean. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the bank supported local charitable organisations to assist in supplying food and essential supplies to those in greatest need and funded the Salvation Army’s efforts to provide relief to the neighbouring island of Saint Vincent during the aftermath of the La Soufrière volcanic eruptions.
The bank’s customer assistance programme has helped more than 19,000 of its customers manage the financial uncertainty brought by the pandemic with payment deferrals and flexible financing solutions. Meanwhile, a digital support unit was launched to encourage senior citizens to stay at home and adapt to remote banking services. The support unit conducted telephone-based tutoring alongside its ‘Bank with Confidence’ online information hub.
Scotiabank aspires to be a digital leader in the country’s financial services industry. New initiatives include a drive to make the bank’s online services accessible to everyone. Live information sessions and step-by-step guides have been introduced on social media platforms to provide customers with 24/7 support. An improved mobile app features dynamic font sizing, so that visually impaired customers can access remote banking services with ease. Other new features include the option of facial recognition sign-in – a first among the bank’s local competitors. These improvements helped the bank to achieve a 34% increase in the number of online and mobile transactions.
Suzette Armoogam-Shah, managing director of Scotiabank Barbados, says: “Changing customer needs and expectations have led to us focusing heavily on driving our digital transformation. With the onset of the global pandemic, this was made even more evident. We have successfully adapted banking through investments in technology to provide customers with safe and secure enhancements, and products that enable faster, smarter banking. As we look ahead, we will continue delivering for our customers, shareholders and communities as we move the bank forward, towards even greater success.”
The Bank of NT Butterfield & Son
Bank of NT Butterfield & Son’s conservative credit strategy and focus on compliance and operational risk controls have placed it in a strong position to meet the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, which have been particularly severe for Bermuda’s tourism-based economy.
From the outset of the pandemic, the bank’s focus was on the wellbeing of its customers and employees, and the uninterrupted operation of its banking services. Protective equipment was provided for staff and a split team operating strategy was introduced to reduce the risk of employees being affected by the illness. Efficient remote working conditions were established through the launch of a virtual desktop system. Butterfield remained operational with more than 70% of its employees working from home.
To help ease the financial impact of the pandemic on its customers, the bank deferred payments on residential mortgages, loans and credit cards for six months, which resulted in more than $55m in additional funds circulating through the local economy. Butterfield also reduced its fees and increased its funding to urgent care programmes to support the most vulnerable people.
Butterfield is leveraging technology to offer greater personalisation. A new corporate website was launched as part of a wider rebranding strategy. Emphasis was placed on the user experience through the creation of a fully responsive, single-site solution with capabilities and detailed analytics tailored to the needs of the individual customer. To further increase the functionality and security of the bank’s mobile services, a new credit card alerts app was launched for its retail customers. The app enables the monitoring of credit card activity from a mobile device and the customisation of control preferences.
Beyond serving communities with financial services, every year Butterfield provides more than $1m in funding for local organisations supporting programmes focusing on improving healthcare, the environment, arts and education. In addition, the bank’s university scholarship programme aims to empower young people to pursue their career aspirations in the financial services industry and beyond.
Banco Nacional de Bolivia
Banco Nacional de Bolivia (BNB) has a strategic vision for digital transformation that has served the bank well since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Products such as BNB’s virtual platform and mobile app proved essential in facilitating the continued 24/7 availability of key banking services for its customers, while newly launched services, including online account opening and debit card delivery, generated an immediate impact in the market and were later adopted by the bank’s competitors.
Pablo Bedoya, president of BNB’s board, says: “The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we interact with our customers. We had to adapt our operations rather quickly to fulfil the demands of our clients, so they could continue their day-to-day operations without any major friction. We were able to give a timely response to support our clients during difficult times thanks to our constant digital transformation process.”
In mid-2020, BNB launched an open treasury services platform called BNB API market, which focuses on a scalable offering of application programming interfaces (APIs) for entrepreneurs. The APIs can facilitate the collection of QR code payments, answer balance inquiries, and provide instant access to transaction statements and fast verification of recent payments. BNB is proud to position itself at the forefront of the open banking movement in Bolivia and plans to release more APIs in 2021.
Another notable innovation was in the life insurance segment. BNB collaborated with an insurance company, a brokerage and a telemedicine service (a health service provider that serves its patients online) to create a life insurance product covering death from any cause, including Covid-19, at a low cost of $5 per month. The bank’s telemedicine service allows the scheme’s beneficiaries to access an online platform of more than 100 medical professionals for a clinical consultation, without the need to visit a physical medical practice and risk infection.
“As a leader in the Bolivian banking system, BNB will continue to be a benchmark in innovation and technology, offering better and efficient services and products to our clients within a digital ecosystem,” adds Mr Bedoya.
Santander Brasil has embarked on an extraordinary initiative that aims to prioritise environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, as well as sustainable finance principles, throughout its strategic planning. The bank says that the results of this initiative have already borne fruit, allowing it to seize new opportunities, outperform competitors and create a commercial boom, particularly in the development of new financial instruments.
Notable highlights during the review period include the closing of the first ever ESG-linked loan agreement in Brazil. The 180m reais ($33m) transaction helped FS Bioenergia to maintain its position as one of the world’s largest biofuel providers. Meanwhile, Santander participated as a global coordinator and sustainability adviser on a $500m deal that concluded as the country’s first international green bond issuance within the transport and logistics sector.
In addition, the bank helped Brazil’s government establish a market for decarbonisation credits within the transportation chain, winning itself a 70% market share of the decarbonisation credits underwriting. Santander Brasil’s total ESG ventures exceeded 27bn reais in 2020, covering areas as diverse as green energy financing, green bonds, sustainable agriculture and green microcredit financing.
In its quest for continuing technological innovation and to help more efficiently serve a customer base of more than 26 million, the bank developed a virtual assistant called ‘GENT&’. At launch, the virtual assistant could answer more than 16,000 different customer queries, and thanks to its use of IBM Watson machine learning technology, the more customers that interact with the assistant the more effective it becomes. In 2020, GENT& logged 37 million customer interactions and successfully answered 70% of the total queries, significantly reducing pressure on the bank’s branches, call centres and social media channels.
Sérgio Rial, country head of Santander Brasil, says: “In January, I will become chairman of the board of directors. My main concern and commitment will be to continue supporting the bank’s ongoing transformation and new businesses. We will draw from Santander’s strength and accelerate with innovation, determination and ambition to build the best financial platform for our customers.”
As one of Canada’s largest banks, Scotiabank has had a key role to play in supporting many Canadians through the challenges of Covid-19. Not only did it fulfil its immediate responsibilities, but it also embraced the pandemic as an opportunity to innovate and to provide better service to its customers.
The bank identified that not only would many of its customers require support with a shift to online banking, but a considerable number were also in a financially vulnerable position. The bank’s data and analytics teams developed technology that could detect financially vulnerable customers and, of that group of two million people, those considered highly vulnerable (200,000). Based on this data, it proactively reached out to those who needed it most. The results were impressive: not only were customers pleased to receive the proactive outreach, as shown in a five-point increase in customer net promoter scores, but the bank also saw a notable decline in delinquency rates, from 6.5% to 1.7%.
“The best relationships are forged during challenging times,” says Brian J Porter, president and CEO of Scotiabank. “I am exceedingly proud of the ways in which our team have supported our customers over the past two years. The ongoing investments that we are making in our people, products, processes, and technology are ensuring that we can deliver for our customers during this difficult period.”
The bank has implemented a number of other initiatives to support the financial wellbeing of its customers during this challenging time. This includes the launch of Advice+ in late 2020, a service that offers customers a range of new options to seek financial advice, including a new self-serve ScotiaAdvice Centre online, and personalised Advice+ financial plans to meet their own needs.
At a broader level, in the past 18 months the bank has also embraced the importance of the environmental, social and governance agenda, not only for its own long-term success but also based on its responsibilities to society more broadly. This has been a multi-pronged approach, including launching a sustainable finance team in June 2020, which has since led on a number of important transactions during 2021, including Canadian telecoms company Telus’s inaugural sustainability-linked bond. This was the first deal of this type in Canada.
During the review period, Scotiabank Cayman sought to better align itself with increasing customer expectations for digital and self-service channels by doubling its fleet of automated banking machines. The new machines have significantly enhanced the bank’s ability to handle day-to-day customer transactions remotely, while reducing in-branch traffic and increasing the capacity for branch staff to focus on customer engagement around complex matters such as financial planning advice.
While the economy of the Cayman Islands has remained resilient to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were notable hardships across many of the bank’s customer groupings. The bank responded with a customer assistance programme that offered an automatic three-month loan deferral, with the option of an additional three months for customers who continued to face challenges. Through this initiative, Scotiabank Cayman has assisted around 45% of its retail banking customers. The bank continues to offer personalised solutions to customers who require longer term support and, as a result of the programme, the bank says that loan default rates in the Cayman Islands are the lowest in the Caribbean.
The bank is proud of its efforts to support its local community. At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the bank funded the purchase of prepaid supermarket cards for families facing financial difficulties. In addition, bursaries for tuition fees, books and educational supplies were provided for students affected by economic hardship.
During 2021, the bank launched Scotia Rise, a social impact programme that aims to focus on two critical societal issues: supporting students as they complete their secondary and higher education, and helping to end violence against women. The first Scotia Rise initiative was a donation to the Cayman Island Crisis Centre, an organisation whose programmes and services cater to those impacted by domestic abuse.
“In the Cayman Islands, we have remained laser-focused on advancing our digital strategy. We are heavily investing in our technology infrastructure not only to serve customers more efficiently, but also in line with our core purpose of being the bank for every future,” says Sarah Hobbs, country manager of Scotiabank Cayman.
With a customer base of around 3.8 million, Santander Chile leads the country’s market in terms of loans and deposits. Despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and mounting political uncertainty, the bank achieved a landmark year in client acquisition, product innovations and technological developments. Financially, the bank achieved solid results, with a 21.0% return on equity and a 60% increase in its consolidated income as of the first half of 2021.
The bank credits the launch of its new digital current account, Santander Life, as its “biggest game changer of 2020”. The account was the first of its kind in the Chilean market and its facility for online customer onboarding proved critical during the height of the social disruption caused by the pandemic. According to the bank, its net current account openings between April 2020 and April 2021 was equivalent to more than twice the total account openings within the rest of the country’s banking system combined.
During 2021, Santander seized the first-mover advantage again by becoming the first bank in Chile to launch its own card-acquiring network. Its network is based on Santander Group’s Getnet technology and aims to break the monopoly enjoyed by the country’s incumbent merchant acquirer Transbank. Santander’s offering differentiates itself with faster payments of sales to merchants’ bank accounts, lower fees and insurance policies to protect merchants’ income in the event of a pandemic lockdown or natural disaster. As of June 2021, the bank had sold more than 28,000 point-of-sale terminals to Chilean businesses. The bank expects to reach a market share of 15% to 20% by 2024.
On the sustainability front, the bank continues to roll out green initiatives. Its asset management division has launched the first green mutual fund in Chile, while its mortgage customers can now receive preferential rates when buying properties that meet sustainable construction criteria.
“We plan to invest $250m between 2021 and 2023 to bolster our digital initiatives,” says country head Claudio Melandri. “We are also looking to strengthen our responsible banking commitments in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In terms of sustainable financing, we are helping our customers move towards a greener economy with environmental, social and corporate governance financing alternatives.”
Banco de Bogotá
Banco de Bogotá boasts the largest offering of digital products in the Colombian banking market and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have only accelerated its efforts to facilitate access and entice new users to its digital channels.
During the review period, the bank prioritised new methods of digital identity authentication, enabling more than 40% of its customers to handle most of their day-to-day banking tasks remotely and avoid visits to physical branches under quarantine restrictions. QR codes were implemented as a contactless payment feature through its mobile app and one-time-payment codes, delivered by text message, enabled customers to withdraw money from the bank’s ATMs without the need for a debit card. Furthermore, a mass communications campaign to educate customers in the use of the bank’s digital services was conducted by social media, email and text messages. These initiatives and more resulted in a 24.3% increase in digital users during 2020.
Sustainability is now an integral part of Banco de Bogotá’s operating strategy. In September 2020, the bank closed its debut $81m green bond issuance for Grupo Aval, which aims to finance projects that generate a positive environmental impact and contribute to the mitigation of climate change. The bank also supported its pandemic-hit retail and business customers with credit relief programmes, donated more than 2.45bn pesos ($631,500) to humanitarian causes and benefited an estimated 1.9 million people through its financial literacy programmes.
“During 2020, we faced the worst crisis in Banco de Bogotá’s 150 years of existence, forcing us to make swift decisions and to demonstrate our capacity to adapt,” says Alejandro Figueroa Jaramillo, chief executive of Banco de Bogotá. “Our priority was to support our customers and employees. Our digitalisation strategy, launched in 2017, became a crucial tool amidst the crisis.
“Our plans include increased investment in technology, and in attracting and retaining talent,” he continues. “We will strive forward, contributing to economic growth for Colombia and our clients; we shall remain committed to conducting our business in an environmentally friendly manner with innovative initiatives; and we will strengthen our leadership to ensure optimal financial results.”
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (BNCR) highlights its digital transformation process and its focus on sustainable business practices as the two strategic themes that lie at the heart of the bank’s competitive advantage.
During the review period, BNCR boosted its digital offerings with an upgraded mobile app featuring biometric verification and added functionality to make payments through QR codes. A new, self-managed online personal loan product was added, and customers can now make instant payments and transfers across Central America. In May 2020, the bank broke new ground with the launch of its first virtual housing fair, which was an online offer of housing solutions, advisory and favourable conditions home loans for its customers in association with housing developers. During its two-month run, BNCR generated 400 new home loans for a total value of $23m.
BNCR’s commitment to environmental and social issues is noteworthy. Agreements with multilateral organisations, such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the French Development Agency, have provided more than $150m in funds to be allocated as part of the bank’s sustainable financing initiatives. Its financial literacy programme has reached nearly 300,000 Costa Ricans and the bank continues to adopt sustainable practices throughout all aspects of its business, offering its clients a wide portfolio of green products.
“Customers are requesting digital services and mobile banking, a trend that was exacerbated by the pandemic,” says BNCR CEO Bernardo Alfaro. “We now offer almost all services and products on a digital basis. Investors are requiring financial services providers to certify compliance with environmental, social and governance (ESG) best practices. We developed an ESG strategy and are actively incorporating these concepts into all our products and services. We will also strengthen our accountability and transparency reports to all our stakeholders.”
Banreservas was able to end a challenging 2020 with outstanding financial results. Its net profits increased by 12.4% for the year, while its total assets and Tier 1 capital both expanded by 25.8% and 19%, respectively. The bank has been integral in mitigating the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Dominican Republic’s economy, contributing 47% of all the loans created by the country’s banking sector during the review period alone.
In the tourism sector, Banreservas granted new loans totalling $91.8m. These loans signify an enormous investment into one of the country’s sectors most impacted by the pandemic, and one that is crucial for its economic recovery. The loans will fund the development of more than 800 new hotel rooms, as well as the construction of a new cruise ship terminal that is projected to facilitate the arrival of an additional one million visitors to the Dominican Republic every year.
During 2021, the bank inaugurated its first ‘smart office’, where its customers can complete many of their day-to-day transactions without needing to interact with branch staff. In addition, the onboarding process to the bank’s digital channels has been automated, enabling customers to gain access to the bank’s online services in minutes, while alleviating the pressure on its call centres, which previously were responsible for onboarding customers through a lengthy manual verification process.
The bank has created an entire business unit dedicated to social responsibility and sustainability-based initiatives. Its Preserva initiative aims to improve financial literacy and promote a culture of savings among the most underprivileged in the country. Its Cree Banreservas programme provides support for entrepreneurs through funding and expertise and its Coopera programme supports the social and economic development of the country’s vulnerable agricultural communities.
“We have focused important efforts on supporting our institutional mission of: promoting the wellbeing and prosperity of all Dominicans; providing support to the country’s productive sectors, promoting innovation and digital banking, as well as cyber security, green banking, financial inclusion and the promotion of high-impact state programmes; and seeking the commercial reactivation and sustainable economic development of the country,” says a Banreservas spokesperson.
Digital transformation is a fundamental pillar of Produbanco’s strategy, and the incorporation of new technologies to modernise its processes and improve the experience of its customers during the review period impressed the judging panel.
Among the newly launched products during the review period was a digital savings tool for its retail customers. Available through the bank’s internet and mobile app channels, the tool can recommend incremental savings amounts tailored to an individual customer’s financial situation. The bank’s mobile app has also been upgraded to provide its customers with better insights into their spending habits and payments can now be made and received with digital wallets. In addition, contactless payments can be made with more types of near-field communication compatible devices, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers.
In 2020, Produbanco completed a process to upgrade its entire ATM network. The new ATMs feature touchscreens to provide a smoother user experience and its customers can now deal with more of their day-to-day banking activities without the need to interact with branch staff.
Produbanco’s commitment to environmental issues is noteworthy. It became the first bank in Ecuador to obtain ISO accreditation from an international body (Société Générale de Surveillance) for its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. To further achieve its carbon-mitigation goals, it has joined forces with more than 40 financial institutions globally to form the Net Zero Banking Alliance, which has pledged to reduce carbon emissions derived from its members’ loan and investment portfolios.
The bank is heavily involved in supporting its business clients as they adapt to sustainable business practices. It recently obtained a $50m credit line from the International Finance Corporation, which will partly be used for the financing of green projects implemented by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
El Salvadorian lender Banco Agricola maintains an enviable market-leading position. Despite a challenging year, the bank was responsible for a 27.9% share of total loans disbursed and a 29.4% share of total deposits within the country’s financial sector during the review period. Its total assets were up by 7.4% in 2020 and operating efficiency improved with its cost-to-income ratio improving, to 42.4%. Alongside its digital and mobile channels, the bank is endowed with the largest physical network in the country, with 1711 points of service serving more than 1.3 million customers.
The bank’s ongoing digital transformation strategy has seen its number of active online and mobile users double to more than 315,000 at the end of 2020. A new digital savings account was launched and contactless payment options were introduced for Android mobile phones. Further efforts have been made to provide new payments options to its business customers, with products such as Wompi, a platform that enables small businesses to sell their wares online without the need for their own website, and a partnership with TiendaCercaSV.com, a geolocation platform that enables restaurants and small neighbourhood stores to take payments through QR codes.
The bank is proud of its initiatives that accelerate financial inclusion for entrepreneurs and small businesses, which is critical in supporting the El Salvadorian economy, where it is estimated that 32% of adults rely on entrepreneurship or small businesses as their primary source of income. In September 2020, the International Finance Corporation arranged a $330m financing package for the bank, which will back Banco Agricola’s objectives of better reaching these underserved segments. In addition, some of the proceeds will be used to fund green projects, playing a significant role in Banco Agricola’s climate change mitigation strategy.
Banco Industrial continues to be the largest bank in Guatemala with the highest market share in total assets (27.6%), total net loans (28.4%) and total deposits (25.4%), comprising around a quarter of the Guatemalan banking system as of June 2021. The bank has maintained a sound and stable growth trajectory, which is reflected in its total assets’ compound annual growth rate of 7.4% over the past five years.
The bank understands that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are vital for Guatemala’s economic growth. In 2020, Banco Industrial created a new business unit that exclusively focuses on the SME segment. The unit leverages relationships with international development institutions, such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the US International Development Finance Corporation, to obtain additional take advantage of additional expertise and financing.
Banco Industrial’s digital banking platforms play an increasingly important role in its daily operations, its retail banking platform has seen a 43.7% year-on-year growth in users, recording more than 80 million transactions as of June 2021. New innovations include a voice-activated digital assistant based on IBM Watson technology, the use of biometric authentication to allow for fully digital onboarding for its mobile retail accounts and new, more efficient payments solutions for businesses.
The bank is constantly upgrading and protecting its technological infrastructure. Since 2019, more than $4.2m in has been invested in the implementation of new digital initiatives and projects. In addition, its cyber security teams have deployed solutions that leverage technologies such as machine learning to protect the bank’s systems against more than 93.3 million potential threats.
“Digital transformation will be an integral part of our strategy moving forward to strengthen our banking operations in Guatemala, and our regional operations through our subsidiaries in Honduras, El Salvador and Panama,” says Banco Industrial’s CEO Luis Lara Grojec. “We will continue to focus on the SME segment, as we recognise [that they] are the growth engine of the Guatemalan economy.”
Banco del País
Honduras is a challenging market. At the end of 2020, the combined crisis of Covid-19 and two devastating hurricanes caused the country’s economy to contract by 8.6%. Nevertheless, Banco del País ended the year in good financial shape, with its total assets expanding by 7.8%, alongside a Tier 1 capital growth of 22.6%. Notably, the bank’s non-performing loan ratio was only 1.21%, below the country’s banking system average of 3.04%.
To ensure its customers could continue to access its services during the crisis, Banco del País sped up its digital transformation process. “Resources were focused on strengthening online and mobile banking, implementing new e-commerce solutions, launching virtual assistants and chatbots to meet customers’ needs, as well as restructuring loans according to regulator instructions to help clients battle the economic impact of the pandemic,” says Banco del País’s CEO María del Rosario Selman-Housein.
Recognising that access to education is a key component of social and economic development, the bank launched a new credit card that gives a 10% discount on training and tuition fees at the country’s schools, colleges and universities. Cardholders also have the option of settling their credit balance at 0% interest for up to 36 months. The bank continues to contribute to the educational progress of Hondurans through its social arm, the Napoleon J Larach Foundation. The foundation has awarded more than 100 scholarships and provides funding for educational resources at several universities across Honduras.
Looking to the future, Ms Selman-Housein notes that the bank’s focus is to continue forging ahead with its digitalisation processes. “We will continue investing in technologies that help us improve the capabilities of our digital channels, making more products and services available through our online and mobile banking platforms, improving customer experience and incorporating robotic process automation to critical processes, improving operational efficiency,” she says.
National Commercial Bank Jamaica
The winner of the 2021 Bank of the Year Award for Jamaica, National Commercial Bank (NCBJ), has enjoyed considerable success thanks to the aspirational qualities of its ‘accelerate programme’ business strategy. The programme is based around four pillars: strong financial performance, an inspired employee culture, being the preferred and most trusted partner for its customers, and a focus on implementing world class technology.
The initiatives launched under the programme have already yielded impressive results, boosting NCBJ’s performance metrics in several areas. These include a 70% increase in mobile banking customers, a 60% increase in consumer lending, credit card sales now being conducted through digital methods, a boost in digital lending, and a greatly improved customer experience.
NCBJ’s focus on technology extends beyond migrating traditional banking transactions to digital methods. The bank is equally committed to creating a ‘holistic’ experience for its customers. It launched NCBAssist, a web portal that enables its customers to create, view and track service requests and complaints, without the need to visit branch staff or interact with call centres.
Significant strides have also been made in digital lending. Using advanced analytics, NCBJ implemented a system that can assess customer accounts to automatically pre-approve its digital loan products. Pre-approved customers are not required to produce any documentation or undergo any formal credit reference checks, on acceptance the funds are credited to their accounts within minutes.
The bank was well prepared to operate under Jamaica’s pandemic restrictions, as 60% of all its transactions had already been migrated to digital channels. Furthermore, the fees on certain digital platforms were reduced as an incentive for customers to make the transition to digital banking and resources were dedicated within branches to assist its elderly customers in making use of its automated banking machines. Customers were also educated and encouraged to utilise the bank’s mobile app, online banking platform and dropbox facilities to help conduct their banking needs in a safe and secure environment.
BBVA Group has developed a reputation for being at the fulcrum of digital banking innovation, and its Mexican subsidiary, BBVA Mexico — the winner of the country’s Bank of the Year award — is a good example of how its efforts have been paying off.
As the growth in contactless payments accelerates, so do concerns about its security. In 2021, BBVA Mexico took steps to address this issue, becoming first in the region to launch a new generation of credit and debit cards equipped with embedded fingerprint scanners, which the bank calls a “Smart Key”. Users can perform transactions with a simple touch to the sensor, bringing an extra layer of biometric security to tap-to-pay interactions. To safeguard customer data, the cards are issued devoid of printed account information and, furthermore, they also contribute to the bank’s sustainability targets, as each card is made from 86% recycled materials.
Open banking is a key pillar of the bank’s digital strategy. Using its application programming interfaces, BBVA is creating ‘collaboration channels’ with Mexican businesses to help them offer their customers new products and services, while also improving the bank’s own user experience. A prime example of this collaboration is the bank’s partnership with Saeko, an educational platform that promotes financial inclusion among the country’s underbanked student population. Saeko’s customers can open a BBVA Mexico account through its mobile app to securely make tuition fee payments and gain access to additional banking services tailored to their needs.
The bank continues to strengthen its solutions for its small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clients. Its newly launched BBVA Empresas app extends its SME banking services to mobile for the first time. Its clients can also request loans linked to sales from point-of-sale terminals. Over the 12-month period since its launch in July 2020, the bank’s strategy has resulted in more than 75,000 new SME clients, opening more than 120,000 accounts.
Banco de la Producción
Despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and three consecutive years of economic recession, Nicaragua’s economy showed signs of recovery in the first half of 2021. This will be reassuring news to Banco de la Producción (Banpro), whose unwavering support of the country’s growth sectors has been vital to stimulating Nicaragua’s fragile economy.
To encourage sustainable practice and generate growth, Banpro is proactive in assisting its clients to identify environmental and social risks to their businesses. Furthermore, Banpro aims to add wider economic value by seeking out and offering its services to companies that act as critical links within supply chains. The bank’s environmental credentials are impressive, with much of its loan portfolio focusing on financing projects related to energy efficiency, sustainable manufacturing, the generation of renewable energy and more efficient agricultural practices.
This strategy, boosted by a drive to generate more retail lending alongside its commercial endeavours, has produced a market-leading loan portfolio of $1.6bn as of May 2020, while its non-performing loan ratio remains the lowest in the country, at 2.7%.
Banpro stood out with several new digital upgrades for its retail customers. More than 58% of its customers had migrated to its new mobile and internet platforms within their first four months of their operation and, today, at least 70% of its transactions are made through its non-branch channels. Beyond its digital channels, Banpro is committed to providing a diverse network of physical points of service. Alongside its 180 branches, the bank credits its Banpro and Billetera Móvil agents as being crucial in providing the outreach necessary to maintain its capacity of more than 18 million transactions per year.
Panama’s economy, which is one of the largest in Central America, suffered a historic contraction of 17.9% in 2020 due to the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. Banco General, thanks to its solid capital base, representing more than twice the regulatory minimum of 8%, and the success of its ambitious digital strategy, has weathered the storm and secured its leading market share position, scooping this year’s Bank of the Year accolade in the process.
For the past two years, the bank has been expanding its digital capabilities by leveraging the use of big data and advanced analytic technologies to provide its customers with more efficient and flexible access to its products and services. The creation of BG Lab, a business unit comprised of 40 technology teams, has enhanced the effectiveness of the bank’s digital marketing campaigns, achieved new loan origination models – reducing writeoffs and optimising interest rate margins – and improved the bank’s debt recovery services. The bank credits the efforts of BG Lab with increasing the number of active users of its digital channels to more than 762,000 clients in 2020, representing a year-on-year growth in users of more than 100%. Furthermore, the bank’s non-performing loan ratio remains low at just 1.46%.
Of particular note, the bank’s upgrades to its Yappy peer-to-peer payment system have yielded more than 571,000 new customer affiliations, 14.4 million customer transactions and more than 5000 new business customers in 2020. Meanwhile, its mobile banking platform, Banca Móvil, has been adopted by 72% of the bank’s customers and has seen a 102.2% growth in transactions processed.
Banco General maintains a strong commitment to philanthropy through its non-profit foundation, Fundación Sus Buenos Vecinos. Despite the bank’s profits decreasing due to the country’s severe economic contraction, its donations through the foundation were doubled to $10m, supporting more than 165 non-profit organisations working to alleviate the hardships faced by the most vulnerable of Panama’s communities.
Banco Itaú Paraguay
Recognising the importance of customer satisfaction, Banco Itaú Paraguay has taken steps to upgrade its suite of digital banking products for its retail customers, alongside strengthening its capabilities in both local and international capital markets.
Its retail customers received a boost in 2020 with the arrival of the Itaú Pagos mobile payments app. Among its new features is the option to send payment requests and transfer money to contacts who also have the app installed, without the need for their bank account details. It can also send and receive payments to digital wallets, third-party bank accounts and via QR codes. Meanwhile, a fully digital onboarding service was launched to ease the opening of the bank’s new digital current and savings accounts. Customers can make a request to open an account in just 15 minutes by using their smartphone camera to digitise supporting documentation. The accounts can be set up for balances in both local currency and US dollars, with no monthly or annual deposit limits. In addition, customers can make self-managed requests for associated products, such as credit cards and overdrafts.
In 2020, Banco Itaú Paraguay completed the acquisition of Paraguay-based brokerage company Verbank Securities. As part of the deal, the firm was renamed Itaú Invest, and now acts as the bank’s primary investment platform, allowing it to create a secondary fixed-income market in Paraguay and become the largest wholesale bank in the country. Previously, it was only able to meditate on bonds issued by its parent company, Banco Itaú Unibanco. The bank also plans to use its new capabilities to launch a wealth management service.
Banco Itaú Paraguay ended 2020 in good financial shape: Tier 1 capital was up by 26% and its total assets grew by 20%, with an improvement in its non-performing loans ratio, dropping to 1.82%.
“It is an honour to receive this recognition, because it shows the great work we have done as a team, but not only that, it also challenges and motivates us to keep working day and night to improve the experience of our clients in each and every point of interaction that they have with the bank,” says CEO José Brítez.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on Peru. The country suffered the world’s deadliest outbreak per capita, and a prolonged lockdown led to an economic contraction of 11.1% in 2020. BBVA Peru not only managed to end the year in profit and well capitalised, but it also forged ahead with a digitalisation strategy that would prove crucial in overcoming the extreme disruption caused to its services by the pandemic.
The bank upgraded its mobile app with a new set of features. Its app is based on a standardised platform that can be developed throughout BBVA Group. Features that work well in one country can be immediately implemented in another, improving efficiency and greatly speeding up the time-to-market of new upgrades. Most notable was the implementation of facial and fingerprint recognition for faster and more secure login and transaction confirmation. BBVA Peru was first in its market to roll out the technology.
To help ease the financial impact of the pandemic on its customers, the bank rescheduled payments on more than 225,000 loans, which amounted to nearly 31% of its total portfolio. Furthermore, it launched a new credit card with zero membership fees, along with another card that allows customers to pay the same fixed rate every month, regardless of how much they spend.
In keeping with its commitment to sustainability, the bank created a new loan product to finance the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles — the first of its kind in the Peruvian market. In addition, BBVA Peru has begun issuing plastic cards made of recycled materials, as part of a group-wide initiative that aims to provide 7.3 million recycled cards by the end of 2021.
“Looking to the future, we will continue to help our customers during this phase of recovery,” says BBVA Peru’s CEO Fernando Eguiluz. “The other big area is sustainability. We aspire to help our business and retail customers transform their behaviour to reduce their impact on climate change, along with reducing our own, which is of no less importance.”
The winner of Puerto Rico’s Bank of the Year award in 2021, Banco Popular, impressed the judges with its solid financial performance and a well-managed Covid-19 response strategy, which ensured an efficient disbursement of loans for its small and medium-sized enterprise clients (SME) based in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the mainland US.
Under the US Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the bank processed nearly 50,000 loans for a total value of more than $2.1bn for its SME clients. These comprised 63% of all the PPP loans in Puerto Rico. While many Puerto Rican institutions outsourced the loan processing, Banco Popular’s timely launch of its own digital platform created specifically for PPP processing enabled the bank to speed up a loan disbursement process from a several weeks to a few days.
Banco Popular recognises that the threat the pandemic poses is not yet over. In 2021, as part of its ongoing support to the businesses most affected, the bank established a $1m fund to aid ongoing business relief efforts. Furthermore, the bank partners with non-profit organisations that provide SMEs with guidance, coaching and emergency grants. Its own Start-up Popular programme aims to stimulate local economic development by supporting local entrepreneurs with financing, coaching and networking events. Since inception, the programme has approved $4.1m in loans to 130 clients.
The bank’s commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) business practices is laudable. In 2020, it revised its lending policy to consider each transaction’s potential environmental and social impact. A notable result of this policy was the bank’s recent provision of seed funding for the Newark 40 Acres and a Mule Fund, an investment vehicle that aims to economically empower black and Latino business owners in Newark, New Jersey.
Ignacio Alvarez, CEO of Banco Popular, says: “The past 18 months proved that agility, customer-centricity and innovation are crucial strategic components. Throughout the pandemic, we supported small businesses, enacted new workplace measures, enhanced ESG efforts and found new ways to engage with customers. We remain true to leveraging innovation and promoting the welfare and prosperity of our customers, employees, communities and shareholders.”
1st National Bank St Lucia
The 1st National Bank St Lucia, winner of the Bank of the Year award for St Lucia, is proud to serve its community. In April 2021, the lender’s long-term strategic planning bore fruit when it absorbed the operations of Royal Bank of Canada Saint Lucia, following the conclusion of an acquisition deal struck in 2019.
The bank led a consortium of five local banks that purchased Royal Bank of Canada’s entire eastern Caribbean business, with the express intention of paving the way for the consortium’s banks to play a more active role in the development of their respective countries.
On the digital front, 1st National achieved some significant milestones with the issuance of new chip-and-PIN contactless cards, 3D-Visa secure online transaction processing and e-commerce merchant onboarding. Of particular note was the addition of electronic fund transfer capabilities to its mobile banking platform, MoBanking. Customers can transfer funds to any bank within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, and they can also send each other mobile phone credit.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caused a severe contraction of 20% to the island’s predominantly tourism-based economy. To mitigate its effects and support its customers, 1st National’s relief packages offer a six-month deferral on loan payments, including mortgages, and the automatic removal of fees on late loan and credit card repayments. It also offered working capital financing to businesses and debt restructuring for clients on a case-by-case basis.
“As we head into 2021 and beyond, it is necessary that we reset and refocus. We must adjust our expectations of customer needs and be ready to meet these changing needs. To do so adequately and successfully, we plan to adapt more quickly to the world of virtual, contactless, and twenty-four-hour seven-days-per week banking,” says Aurea Lafeuillee, managing director of 1st National Bank St Lucia.
First Citizens Bank
Trinidad and Tobago
First Citizens Bank has emerged from nearly two years of pandemic disruption as a strong player in its market, thanks to a raft of new digital initiatives and an ambitious expansion strategy.
In March 2021, the bank’s investments in hybrid cloud services and application programming interfaces paid off with the launch of its loan workflow solution. A notable first within its local market, the solution automates end-to-end loan application and management processes. It was a significant milestone in the bank’s digital transformation roadmap that boosted internal efficiencies while providing quick turnarounds for its customers.
Recognising the crucial role that small and medium-sized enterprises play in Trinidad and Tobago’s economy, the bank launched Easybiz, a new suite of affordable e-commerce solutions developed in partnership with payment processor First Atlantic Commerce and online billing platform Fygaro. Easybiz offers tools for online payment collection, real-time payments, automated invoicing, accounting, online store functionalities and embedded payment buttons on social media channels. The bank says its launch has resulted in a 200% increase in its e-commerce merchant customers.
Beyond its digital initiatives, and with its eye on expansion and capturing new markets, First Citizens Bank acquired minority stakes in Barita Investments, a Jamaican investment management company, and Term Finance, a web-based credit institution operating in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Saint Lucia. Through the two acquisitions, First Citizens Bank is now able to offer its services across the region, without the need for a shop-front presence.
“A key change during the pandemic was an escalation in the deployment of technology to meet the demands of our customers, as we improved our efficiency, while keeping the personal safety of our employees and customers paramount,” says First Citizens’ group CEO Karen Darbasie. “We were able to successfully fast-track enhancements in our mobile banking services and e-commerce products, enrich our customers’ experience through new and upgraded channels for interaction, and facilitate increased emphasis on mobility, productivity and security.”
Scotiabank Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos Islands
Scotiabank Turks and Caicos has scooped the Bank of the Year accolade in 2021 for its steadfast efforts in adapting to customer preferences for mobile and self-service channels.
In March 2020, the bank made significant progress with its digital transformation strategy through the launch of its upgraded mobile app. New features include a suite of accessibility options designed to help people with disabilities access the bank’s services more easily.
Customers can also manage their credit cards, receive real-time notifications of card spend transactions and ATM withdrawals, transfer funds to third parties and customer loan accounts, and benefit from biometric security on login. The bank notes that during the review period its mobile transactions increased by 36%.
Further investments were made in a fleet of smart deposit machines, which offer features including immediate credit on cash and cheque deposits, credit card payments and the purchase of mobile phone credit.
The bank is active in providing philanthropic support to the community it serves. Donations were made to two local charities: Food for Thought, which provides meals for school children and families in financial hardship, and the Provo Children’s Home, which needed assistance with its operating expenses.
Patricia Adams, acting managing director of Scotiabank TCI, says: “Despite the ongoing health crisis, we have maintained great momentum in advancing our digital agenda and continue to facilitate this transition for thousands of customers within the Turks and Caicos Islands. With a clear vision of the future, we will continue to assess our operations with a view of making them more efficient and effective, while delivering better customer experiences. We will remain proactive and continuously assess our business to ensure that we deliver the highest customer experience to further cement our role as the bank for every future.”
Formed in West Virginia in 1997 as a community-focused bank, MVB has broadened its model beyond traditional banking. Leveraging the disruption occurring in the financial services industry, it has sought to become a leading bank to the fintech sector. In particular, following a strategic review in 2017, it identified that the trend of fintechs taking market share from traditional banks would continue to accelerate, but that most fintechs would need a bank to support their product offering. Additionally, it has also continued to make equity investments in fintechs.
“We don’t just bank fintech companies; we also create, develop and invest in them,” says MVB president and CEO Larry F Mazza. At a strategic level, he says, “MVB has embraced and committed to a tech-forward strategy yielding tremendous results, most notably through the complete transformation of our funding base.” He adds that the bank’s best-in-class funding profile is “powered by our successful fintech initiatives, including gaming, digital assets, payments and title and specialty deposits”.
A key differentiator is MVB’s banking-as-a-service (BaaS) platform which has attracted many new clients, and during 2021 helped it to become the 16th largest bank in the US when measured by number of accounts. The bank’s innovative approach, as well as sound financials (including a 38.6% jump in net profits), gave MVB an edge on some of its larger competitors to scoop the 2021 Bank of the Year Award for the US.
In the past year, key initiatives have included the formation of MVB Edge Ventures, a wholly-owned subsidiary of MVB Bank that acts as a management company providing oversight and support for MVB’s fintech companies. Under MVB Edge Ventures, MVB created Victor Technologies, a faster and easier platform to launch and scale a broad spectrum of fintech solutions for the gaming, payments, BaaS and digital asset sectors. It also acquired Trabian Technology, a software development firm servicing financial institutions and fintech companies. Trabian’s engineers develop software for MVB and a diverse client base, and form a key component of MVB’s strategy to further its transition to a tech-centric business model. Since the acquisition it has almost trebled the size of its software development team.
State-owned Banco de la República Oriental del Uruguay (BROU) is the largest banking institution in Uruguay by quite some margin, comprising 43% of the country’s total banking assets. Its solid financial performance during a challenging year was noteworthy – in particular, the lender saw its net profits increase by 20.2%, while its return on equity reached 26.7%.
Digital transformation is a strategic cornerstone for BROU. A major milestone was reached in 2020, with the completion of the first phase of its e-BROU omni-channel migration, which aims to bring a significant boost to its customer experience and improve the reach and accessibility of its services. Furthermore, it has made considerable investments in automated banking machines, with many containing accessibility features for people with visual impairments.
A special focus has been placed on the development of its e-commerce offerings. The diversity of payment choices available to its customers was greatly increased when more than 100 new services were added to its Multipagos payments platform. During 2020, around 400,000 customers made payments through the platform, increasing the total number of transactions by 32% over the previous year.
BROU operates as both a commercial and development bank. Its strategic goals are to further strengthen its offerings for retail and corporate customers, alongside a focus on financing large infrastructure projects that contribute to the economic development of the country.
It also played a fundamental role in helping smaller Uruguayan businesses meet the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It granted more than $260m in soft loans to over 10,700 financially troubled small businesses as part of nationwide initiative backed by the CAF – the Development Bank of Latin America. The portion of loans granted by BROU made up 35% of the total loans disbursed by the country’s entire banking system.
The continued erosion of the bolívar’s value during years of hyperinflation has prompted many Venezuelans to adopt the US dollar for their day-to-day transactions. Anticipating the evolving needs of its customers, while working within the country’s regulatory frameworks, Banco Mercantil has placed a strategic emphasis on creating multi-currency financial services.
“We have observed a significant contraction on local currency liquidity, while foreign-currency usage is growing on domestic payments. In this context, we are growing our multi-currency ecosystem to strengthen our value proposition,” says Banco Mercantil’s CEO, Nelson Acosta.
To create a service that could handle its business customers’ need for high-volume US dollar transactions, the bank began growing its reserves of cash dollars alongside its offering of foreign currency accounts. Furthermore, a platform for buying and selling foreign currencies was integrated into its online and mobile banking services. By June 2021, its customers had opened more than 12,000 accounts containing a positive balance, including 4000 business accounts. Banco Mercantil’s market share of foreign currency deposits increased to 20%.
As soon as the country’s regulatory framework allows, Banco Mercantil aims to continue launching new multi-currency services. Among its plans in the pipeline are the creation of a mass payroll account-opening service for its business customers.
During 2020, the bank sought to enhance its customer experience with upgrades to its artificial intelligence-based chatbot, MIA (Mercantil Inteligencia Artificial), which, among other applications, can now capture referral codes for new account openings. Its mobile payments app, Tpago, also received a boost, with the addition of QR code payments, affiliate shopping carts and upgrades to its biometric security system. These new features, combined with the launch of a customer reward programme resulted in 1.2 million app downloads over a 12-month period.
“We are moving even further towards a customer-centric strategy. We need to stay closer to our clients as the market rapidly evolves, to help them solve everyday challenges. Meanwhile, we will continue investing in digital transformation to become more agile and efficient. This will allow us to maintain a leadership position in every market we operate in,” says Mr Acosta.