Awards

Country Awards for Excellence 2020: Latin America (including Central America & Caribbean)

Argentina

Argentina

Best bank: BBVA Argentina
Best investment bank: Goldman Sachs

It is an understatement to say that the operating environment for Argentine banks has been deteriorating during the past year. The sovereign is heading towards default, and the economy was firmly in a deep recession before Covid-19 emerged.

In past crises the banks that fared best were those that could rely on the income that they generated from taking the cheap funding from deposits and earning high returns from government securities.

However, in this particular crisis the government is eschewing old-fashioned notions such as positive real interest rates, so this isn’t the reliable approach it was.

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Martin Zarich,
BBVA Argentina
 

There is the real possibility that sustained economic recession and a default-inspired financial crisis could see a rash of banking insolvencies in a system that was priced for rapid growth just a couple of years ago.

In this environment, banks with strong balance sheets and small exposure to the public sector will flourish (albeit relatively) – and BBVA Argentina, rebranded in the past year from BBVA Frances, looks well set. The bank raised $400 million in capital in 2017 through a follow-on as the bank’s management, led by country manager Martin Zarich, eyed potential acquisitions in a sector that was expected to consolidate rapidly.

That capital was never spent – either on an acquisition or on aggressive organic growth – and so the bank is well capitalized. It also benefits from its relatively low exposure to the public sector for its revenues: at just Ps16.2 billion ($231 million) or 3.7% of assets in 2019, compared with Ps22.8 billion and 4% and Ps27.7 billion and 6.5% for listed peers Grupo Galicia and Banco Macro respectively.

This combination of keeping its powder dry on expansion plans and having low exposure to risky and low-returning public assets helped BBVA Argentina outperform last year.

Much of the growth was driven by BBVA’s use of its global digital platform. In Argentina more than half of the bank’s new clients came through digital channels, with market-leading innovation such as becoming the first bank to offer retail time deposits with funds from other banks (100% online).

Digital sales are now 78.6% of all BBVA Argentina’s sales – helping the efficiency ratio to fall to 46.9% from 73.7% in just one year.

The bank increased its net revenue contribution to the global bank despite a large decline in the domestic currency.

Operating income rose to €548 million in 2019 from €175 million in 2018, and net attributable profit was €133 million, compared with a €32 million loss in the previous year.


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Matias Rotella,
Goldman Sachs

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs was Argentina’s best investment bank last year. Matias Rotella, head of Goldman Sachs Argentina, shares Euromoney’s love of understatement by describing the macroeconomic environment as “complex”, but the bank navigated the challenges expertly.

Goldman showed its commitment to its recent investment in the country by stepping into finance clients when volatility slammed shut windows to the public markets, as with its $125 million loan to Mercado Libre and a $25 million loan to Telecom Argentina.

It also arranged the financing for AES Argentina, acting as sole lead arranger and lender on its $20 million loan and acquisition finance, enabling Navent to acquire the digital portals Urbania and Aptitus from Peruvian publishing company El Comercio.

However, it was Goldman’s role as exclusive financial adviser to Wintershall Dea in the largest Argentine transaction in the review period that pointed to the bank’s strengthening portfolio of clients in the country.

The deal saw Wintershall Dea sign a sales and purchase agreement with ConocoPhillips to jointly develop the Aguada Federal and Bandurria Norte oil blocks in the central Argentine province of Neuquén.

The blocks hold large unconventional oil and natural gas resources in the Vaca Muerta shale formation.

Under the terms of the agreement, Wintershall Dea will continue as operator of the licences.




Bolivia

Bolivia

Best bank: Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz

The coronavirus will probably do what Bolivia’s political crisis proved unable to do: sink the country’s economy.

Despite uncertainty since previous president Evo Morales lost his grip on power following a disputed election, the country still grew 2.8% last year, according to the IMF – above the regional average. However, the IMF predicts negative growth of 2.9% this year with a return to positive GDP growth in 2021 (2.9%).


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Alberto Valdés Andreatta,
Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz
 

Last year, the country’s best bank was also its biggest. Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz, led by chief executive Alberto Valdés Andreatta, continues to develop products and services to mine areas of the financial system that offer growth potential.

The bank’s Banx brand of products, targeted at clients aged between 25 and 36, has increased its share of that demographic. It also has become the first in the market to provide 100% loans for social housing – a sign of its belief that market leadership translates into responsibilities to help boost the level of home ownership in the country.

In the last year, the bank grew total revenues by 6.25%, assets by 4.1% and generated a 53.1% increase in net profits, with return on equity improving 226 basis points to 11.62%.

The bank’s non-performing loans ratio nudged up slightly to 2.74% from 2.46% in the previous year, but the rate remains lower than the system average.


Brazil

Brazil

Best bank: Banco do Brasil
Best investment bank: Goldman Sachs

For a long time Banco do Brasil has been thought of as a bank with a lot of potential.

Its sheer scale promised this; but the mixing of its business with successive government’s growth-orientated fiscal aims stymied the state-controlled bank. Now, however, the government’s policy is very much aligned with that of the management team headed by Rubem de Freitas Novaes. A privatization seems inevitable.

Previously when crises hit Brazil, Banco do Brasil would enter the downturn in much worse shape than its private-sector competitors; and as the country emerged again into positive growth it would be hamstrung by the need for it to create a pro-cyclical impetus, to the detriment of credit risk control.


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Rubem de Freitas Novaes,
Banco do Brasil
 

However, thanks to judicious – and fortunate, some might argue – repositioning of the bank’s loan portfolios, there is a good chance that the bank is better positioned to weather the current stress on Brazilian asset quality than its private-sector peers.

Its corporate lending book’s weighting towards the agribusiness sectors and its emphasis on payroll lending for public-sector employees mean that the bank expects its portfolio to outperform in this crisis. It also expects a much better performance than the bank experienced in the Brazilian recession of 2016 in terms of NPLs and cost of risk.

Such relative strength should narrow the gap between Banco do Brasil and the large private-sector competitors even further.

The bank has been improving its metrics in recent years as the weight of fulfilling state policy has eased. In 2019, it reported a 32.1% annual increase in net income to R$17.8 billion ($3.39 billion). Return on equity jumped to 17.2%, up from 12.8% and within striking distance of the 20%-plus threshold of the country’s other big banks (and a long way up from the 8% ROE registered at the end of 2016).

The bank also made an important alliance with UBS this year to help it turn its corporate relationships into investment banking relationships – which should help generate revenue as it becomes involved with clients at a more strategic level.

The speed at which the bank has improved across the board to become a genuine competitor is an achievement worth recognizing.

Investors too have already given their judgement. In the two years to April 2020, the bank’s share price was up 15.2%, even outperforming Santander Brasil (12%), as well as the established stalwarts Bradesco (2.74%) and Itaú (-6.35%).

The choice of Goldman Sachs as Brazil’s best investment bank reflects a similar momentum story to that of the bank award, even if the two institutions are very different in almost every other way.


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Maria Silvia Bastos,
Goldman Sachs
 

Goldman has long had the reputation of being a fickle investor in Latin America – often caricatured by competitors as a revolving door. That assessment was never entirely accurate, but it contained sufficient truth to hurt Goldman’s reputation in the region.

This time, however, things seem to be different. The bank weathered the recent downturn in Brazil without looking for the door; it kept its senior hires on board and supplemented them with strong additions throughout its team.

The results speak for themselves. In a country where much of the investment bank work has been handed out as reward for balance-sheet support – especially the vanilla debt capital markets mandates – Goldman has become a very active player across segments, and can take credit for some of the best deals in Brazil over the last year.

Impressively, given the chokehold on DCM by the locals, Goldman claimed fourth place in the international league table, making it the highest placed non-domestic firm, with $2.4 billion in volumes and an 8% market share.

These weren’t plain vanilla deals either – a perpetual and a Basel III-compliant tier-2 deal for Itaú showed the bank’s ability to lead complex trades.

The bank also led on the sovereign’s dual tranche bond in November that included a liability management component, as well as securing record pricing for clients such as Grupo Globo and Ultrapar.

Goldman was also present in key M&A deals during the qualification period. It acted as financial adviser to Cell Site Solutions on its sale to IHS Towers; advised SulAmerica on the sale of $3 billion of assets to Allianz; and advised Grupo Sao Francisco on its sale to Hapvida.

But it was the bank’s carving out of prominent roles on the biggest equity deals that really rounded out its breakthrough year in Brazil. Goldman was lead left on the XP Inc IPO, the Login ‘re-IPO’ and the follow-ons for Linx, PagSeguro, Stone and Arco and was global coordinator and stabilization agent for the Locaweb IPO.




Chile

Chile

Best bank: Scotiabank Chile
Best investment bank: JPMorgan

It has been a breakthrough year for Scotiabank Chile, and the momentum it has generated makes it Chile’s best bank. The Canadian bank’s acquisition of BBVA Chile saw it jump from seventh to third-biggest bank in the system by loans.

Scotiabank had long identified Chile as a growth market for its Pacific Alliance strategy – the country has the region’s highest per capita GDP and highest penetration of credit to GDP.

The bank took full advantage of the opportunity to buy BBVA Chile when the Spanish parent assessed that it was too small to become sufficiently profitable without growth.

However, the successful integration of BBVA’s Chilean assets shouldn’t diminish the advances that Scotiabank Chile, led by chief executive Francisco Sardón de Taboada, also achieved organically.

Between 2013 and 2019 the bank saw a compound annual growth rate in its loan portfolio of 13%, compared with 9% for the system, which led to a 150-basis point increase in market share.

It had been even more successful in growing deposits, seeing CAGR of 15% on a standalone basis (compared with the system’s 6%) and a 250bp gain in market share.

However, the scale generated by the BBVA acquisition is vital for the bank’s profitability; even with the short-term integration issues it has already become more efficient than the market average, with a ratio of 46.1% (compared with 48.9%).

The bank aims to leverage this scale – as well as its recent investments in digital – to further improve its efficiency and profitability, and to fight for a better share of the banking system’s deposits to lower funding costs. Recent history suggests it will succeed.

While Chile is one of the most prized retail banking markets in the region its investment banking market is less enthralling.

The stable, well-regulated market and the concentration of privately held, well-capitalized companies lessen the need for the type of financial innovation that investment banks enjoy – and can charge handsomely for.

JPMorgan has long been the leading investment banking franchise among the international banks operating in the country.


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Alfonso Eyzaguirre,
JPMorgan
 

The bank wins the investment bank award for its consistency throughout the year. It was streets ahead of its rivals in terms of taking Chilean issuers to the international debt markets – with $3.4 billion and a 17.4% market share from 15 deals, compared with second-placed HSBC’s $2.2 billion and 11.3% market share from six deals.

JPMorgan also led on the country’s only IPO of the year, Cencosud Shopping’s $1.1 billion deal in June 2019, which was the largest-ever IPO on the Santiago exchange.

The bank, led in Chile by senior country officer Alfonso Eyzaguirre, also topped the M&A fee league table, according to Dealogic, with a 21% share of all revenues.

In a standout deal for the Chilean market, JPMorgan acted as exclusive financial adviser to Chilean-based AFP Habitat on the acquisition of a 100% stake in AFP Colfondos, a leading pension fund in Colombia, from Scotiabank and Grupo Mercantil Colpatria.




Colombia

Colombia

Best bank: Banco de Bogotá
Best investment bank: Banca de Inversión Bancolombia

Colombia’s economy is in good shape: it looks like it will hold on to its investment grade rating and is expected to return to the above-par regional growth in 2021 it was enjoying before the coronavirus crisis.

There are challenges, most notably low oil prices and the impact of a recession on the perennial issue of the country’s narrow fiscal base. But when you take into account the consolidated nature of the banking sector, it’s a nice place to be if you are one of the larger firms.


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Alejandro Figueroa,
Banco de Bogotá
 

Of those banks, Banco de Bogotá is the country’s leading competitor, and the 12 months under review saw it chalk up another strong performance as its digital strategy again helped it to drive revenues and control costs (the bank now has more than six million active banking customers).

The bank, led by chief executive Alejandro Figueroa, increased its total assets and loans by 7.2% and 6.3% respectively. Revenues grew by 8.5% and net income grew by 9.4% (on an adjusted basis to remove the large one-off gain of 2018) and the bank’s net interest margin nudged up last year to 5.9% from 5.7% in 2018.

It is also the most efficient bank in the country and has the best return on equity of the big banks at 13.9% and a similarly unbeatable return on assets of 2.8%.

The bank’s focus on digital helps explain its efficiency (the ratio in 2019 was 51.5%).

On an annual comparison, the bank’s sales of digital products increased 269%. In December 2018, new digital openings in savings accounts, unsecured term loans and credit cards represented 36%, 11% and 31% of total sales, respectively. By December 2019, these figures improved to 60%, 65% and 70.5%.

The bank continues to innovate and last year launched three new concept branches, which offer more in-branch digital solutions. It aims to have 75 of these branches operational by the end of 2020. This new model introduces for the first time in Colombian banking the ‘store within a store’ concept. Special discounts will be offered to Banco de Bogotá’s customers, as well as better financing conditions.

Banca de Inversión Bancolombia (BIB) wins the award for best investment bank in Colombia.

In a quiet year for international transactions from Colombia, local deals dominated the financial landscape and BIB had a very strong year, closing 63 transactions worth a combined total of $7.8 billion.

Led by head of investment banking Jean Pierre Serani, the bank arranged one-third of all Colombian bond issuance. That included acting as lead arranger for the first sustainable bond for a private financial institution in Colombia (worth $201 million), which was earmarked for 18 green projects and eight social programmes that are designed to improve essential services.


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Jean Pierre Serani,
Banca de Inversión Bancolombia
 

The bank also took another local firm, microfinancer Banco Mundo Mujer, to the local market in its debut issuance. BIB also led a rare high-yield company, Construcciones El Condor, as it tapped $50 million from notoriously conservative local investors. The success of the deal – with an A- rating, it was four notches below what is usually requested by the local buy side – opens the possibility of local financing for other sub-AA+ corporates in the country.

With virtually no equity transactions from Colombian issuers, BIB also saw strong performance in M&A. The bank closed 13 deals with a combined value of $1.3 billion for a variety of industries.

Among them, the most notable include BIB’s role as financial adviser to Celsia Colombia in the structuring of Caoba Investments – the first energy transmission platform in the country – and in Celsia’s $538 million acquisition of the distribution and energy assets of Enertolima.

The bank’s structured finance group was also active with 19 transactions, worth more than $2.6 billion in total, including arranging the $290 million financing for EnfraGen’s acquisition of Termoflores and acting as lead on Xtra Supermarkets’ $250 million corporate bond issuance and placement programme.




Ecuador

Ecuador

Best bank: Banco Pichincha

Ecuador came back into the minds of the international financial community last year as speculation about the sovereign’s imminent default increased.

So far, the nation has managed to avoid joining Argentina in the regional defaulters’ club, but it is in talks with the IMF to access funds as it remains effectively locked out of the international capital markets.

And so the difficult economic situation that Ecuador’s banks have faced may deteriorate even further. While that will place operational difficulties in the path of the country’s best bank, Banco Pichincha, history shows that at a time of volatility the negative impact will be somewhat mitigated by a flight to quality.

In such times biggest is truly the best, and Pichincha maintains its leadership in the Ecuadorian banking system, with 26.7% participation in obligations to the public and 25.8% in the loan portfolio. Net profits in 2019 reached $130.6 million, which represented an increase of 9.1% over 2018.

However, Pichincha, which is led by general manager Santiago Bayas Paredes, isn’t just relying on the effect of scale to maintain its outperformance.

The bank retained McKinsey to help it evolve its vision to ‘be the largest and the best bank’, which Pichincha hopes will sustain its positive growth whatever the external environment.




Mexico

Mexico

Best bank: BBVA Mexico
Best investment bank: Morgan Stanley

Mexico’s banking system is a strange one. With the exception of Banorte, it is dominated by international banks that, in recent years, have increased the importance they place on the country for both financial and strategic reasons.

As a result, performance has improved across the board: investments in service quality and digitalization have improved standards – and results – markedly in recent years. And yet none has really made much headway against the market leadership that BBVA Mexico, led by country manager Eduardo Osuna, has established and still enjoys.

BBVA Mexico (until this year’s global rebrand it was known as BBVA Bancomer) is the bank that other chief executives, publicly and privately, cite as their target.


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Eduardo Osuna,
BBVA
 

The problem they have is that BBVA keeps moving the goalposts and keeps improving. It will take a monumental effort from a contender to take its crown.

In a pretty terrible economic year for the country, when GDP growth effectively flat-lined, BBVA Mexico increased its net attributable profit to €2,699 million, representing a year-on-year increase of 8.2% (at constant exchange rates).

This was driven by stronger net interest income – up 5.9%, driven by higher income from the retail portfolio – and improved efficiency, which rose by 7 basis points in the fourth quarter of 2019 to a benchmark-setting 38.2%.

This eye-popping efficiency ratio has been driven by the bank’s effective adoption of its global technology; in 2019 alone the bank generated 2.9 million new digital customers – taking the total to 10.1 million, up 41% in the year.

The bank’s mobile customer base grew by 48% to 9.6 million, while digital sales increased to 55.1% of total sales, from 43.7% in 2018.

Mexico is now very much the dominant market for the BBVA group, representing 23.3% of gross income, 38.6% of operating income and 44.8% of group totals.

Morgan Stanley, led in Mexico by Jaime Martínez-Negrete, wins the award for the country’s best investment bank in recognition of the momentum it has created in the 12 months under review.

The local market is a hard one to dominate because there is such fluctuation between peaks and troughs in activity. This year was an example of the latter, with only three equity transactions in the Dealogic data set, and Morgan Stanley was involved in the largest, the $200 million follow on for Vista Oil & Gas.

Morgan Stanley’s breakthrough was powered primarily by M&A. The bank claimed top spot with five deals with a combined value of more than $10 billion.

The list included one $5.4 billion deal in which it advised both Abertis Infraestructuras in its first material investment in Mexico and GIC in its first infrastructure investment in the country as they combined to acquire a 70% stake in the Red de Carreteras de Occidente.

Other $1 billion-plus deals included leading Banco Santander Mexico on its successful $2.7 billion exchange for the shares it didn’t own.

The bank was also the exclusive adviser to the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s acquisition of a 40% stake in the leading infrastructure and toll roads company Ideal and the formation of a Fibra-E investment trust.

Such a complex deal for sophisticated investors in Latin America further enhanced Morgan Stanley’s profile in the country.

The bank also had a strong year in international DCM, leading América Móvil’s $2.25 billion deal, which comprised 10- and 30-year tranches, and Banorte’s $1.1 billion dual tranche Basel-III compliant additional tier-1 transaction.

The Banorte perpetual deal (there were non-call five and non-call 10 tranches) was the third consecutive issue for the Mexican bank, and such repeat business is a key part of the Morgan Stanley playbook – there were also consecutive mandates for Unifin and Credito Real last year.

There were other highlights too. Morgan Stanley was chosen as the only non-lending bank on the Grupo Bimbo bond (a $600 million, 30-year deal) and won a couple of notable debut bond mandates, with successful initiations for both Aeromexico in January and Mega Debt in February.




Paraguay

Paraguay

Best bank: Banco Itaú Paraguay

Paraguay’s financial sector has seen signs of competition, with old banks reinventing themselves and new entrants vying to gain market share through fintech in an economy bursting with potential.

However, it is a financial institution owned by the largest bank in its troubled neighbour Brazil that continues to show the locals how it should be done.

Banco Itaú Paraguay, led by chief executive Andre Gailey, may not be the biggest, but it’s the most impressive, posting return on equity (44.1%) and return on assets (4.2%) numbers that are better than the biggest in the country.

Unsurprisingly its efficiency ratio is also a system best at 40%.

The bank’s focus on the affluent-and-above segments of retail and private banking help, and the asset quality this provides has been added to digital-driven efficiencies that set an operational benchmark in the country.

However, the bank is slowly broadening its reach. In the awards period it has moved into third place in terms of retail customers, with an 8.95% market share, and it is within striking distance of the top two – Banco Regional has a 9.02% market share and Continental 8.97%.

Itaú’s model isn’t one that all banks will be able or seek to emulate, but competitors have been aggressively recruiting some of its senior personnel.

That strategy will likely strengthen the competition in the coming years, but for now at least it doesn’t appear to be weakening the operations of Itaú Paraguay.




Peru

Peru

Best bank: Interbank
Best investment bank: JPMorgan

The July 2019 IPO of Interbank’s parent company, Intercorp, was the first Peruvian listing on the New York Stock Exchange for six years.

Investors in Latin American-owned financial companies that may have been forgiven for thinking that the Peruvian category started and ended with Banco de Credito del Peru’s Credicorp now had another quality story to follow.

The IPO was well timed; pre-Covid 19 performance had been strengthening – and this continued throughout the year. At the end of 2019 Interbank could point to an annual increase in net profit of 21.2% and a return on equity of 21.3%.

It was also the momentum story in the market, with 11.2% growth in its loan portfolio and a 17.5% increase in retail loans – far ahead of the system average.

The bank, led by chief executive Luis Felipe Castellanos, also achieved impressive penetration of retail deposits, growing by 11.5% in the year and leading to a 50-basis point increase in market share, while strong risk control enabled the bank to maintain a below-system average non-performing loan ratio – 2.6%, compared with 3%.

Intercorp also comprises three other businesses, which all booked positive growth throughout the year, with wealth management growing 25.3%, asset management 18.6% and insurance business 14.2%.

The outlook for the bank next year is challenging, given the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

But a combination of the government’s strong fiscal response and the bank’s strong capitalization and healthy liquidity position should help Interbank weather the storm.


Moises-Mainster

Moises Mainster,
JPMorgan

Intercorp has already announced it is reducing its dividend payout to strengthen its capital base; it is fully capitalizing first-quarter 2020 earnings and has raised the capitalization of its 2019 earnings.

JPMorgan wins the award for Peru’s best investment bank, with its case strengthened by taking Intercorp to the NYSE – the standout equity transaction from the region.

Led by Moises Mainster, senior country officer for the Andean, central America and Caribbean region, the bank also dominated fixed income issuance from the country, claiming eight deal mandates worth a combined $6.3 billion, giving it a 65.5% market share.

The bank also advised Pluspetrol Resources Corp in its acquisition of two of SK Innovation’s Peruvian gas fields. The transaction was worth $1.05 billion and the single deal was enough to take JPMorgan to the top of the M&A fee rankings in a pretty quiet year.




Uruguay

Uruguay

Best bank: Banco Itaú Uruguay

Itaú’s bank in Uruguay is very similar to its business in Paraguay.

The bank hasn’t the biggest scale in the market, and yet it manages to produce a level of profitability that is unrivalled in the rest of the sector.


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Horacio Vilaró,
Banco Itaú Uruguay
 

Its return on equity in 2019 was 32% and its return on assets was 5%; neither of its larger rivals – private sector Santander and state-owned Republica – could match these ratios.

Banco Itaú Uruguay reported the country’s best efficiency ratio (54%), reflecting the fact that digital channels now account for 87% of all payments and transfers; and non-performing loans are a remarkably low 0.2%. Net income rose 18.55% to $147 million in 2019.

As in Paraguay, chief executive, Horacio Vilaró, is also growing the bank’s market share in Uruguay – up one percentage point to 13% of system deposits during the year under review and not far behind the largest private-sector bank, Santander, which has 15%.

It also grew its share of loans by 100 basis points to 14% (Santander has 19%), while assets remained stable at 12% (Santander at 14%).


Central America and Caribbean


Costa-Rica

Costa Rica

Best bank: BAC Credomatic



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Federico Odio,
BAC Credomatic

Costa Rica is one of the richest countries in central America and has a highly differentiated economy, making it one of the most attractive banking markets in the region. BAC Credomatic has focused on making the country one of the core drivers of its regional performance, accounting for 28% of the bank’s loans throughout the region and 25% of its deposits.

The bank, led by country manager Federico Odio, continues to grow aggressively. In 2019, its assets grew 6.5%, increasing its market share by 14 basis points to 13.9%. Deposits grew by 8.6% to a market share of 15.2%, while loans grew 5% to a market share of 15.7%.

The bank grew annual net profit to $98.3 million, with a return on equity of 14%.




Dominican-Republic

Dominican Republic

Best bank: Banreservas

Although many state-owned banks have the natural advantage of a lower cost of funding than private-sector competitors, it is very rare that they manage to translate this into the best levels of profitability in the system.


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Simón Lizardo Mézquita,
Banreservas
 

That is particularly true recently, when the cost of funding has fallen for most financial institutions. However, Banreservas – the Dominican Republic’s state-run success story – had a very strong operational year in 2019.

The bank, under the leadership of Simón Lizardo Mézquita, continued to grow aggressively (loans rose 12.1% and deposits by 14%), even as the bank shifted its focus towards the private sector. Around 80% of the bank’s loan portfolio is now to the private sector.

Taking on the private sector and growing market share in loans to 32.4% hasn’t led to a deterioration of asset quality – the bank’s non-performing loan ratio remains below average at 1.6%. All this translated into record profits for the bank, which rose 40% to $175 million.




El-Salvador

El Salvador

Best bank: Banco Agrícola

Banco Agrícola has built on its leading position in El Salvador over the year under review. It is already the only one to lay claim to any scale within the country of six million – it has 28.9% market share of all loans and 28.5% of deposits – and it is now leveraging that dominance into greater profitability. Chief executive Rafael Barraza’s strategy has led to increased penetration of digital banking, while the bank’s efficiency ratio fell to 48.5% in 2019 – a system best.

Banco Agrícola’s net income of $96.1 million was an increase of 45.6% over the year before and equal to 51.7% of the banking system total.

The bank’s return on equity hit 18.2% from 12.4% the previous year and its return on assets climbed to 2% from 1.5%.




Guatemala

Guatemala

Best bank: Banco Industrial

Guatemala’s economy grew at an increased rate in 2019 (3.5% compared with 3.1% the previous year), despite the political volatility caused by general elections.

Banco Industrial, led by chief executive Luis Rolando Lara Grojec, took full advantage, with strong annual growth in net income of 12.6% and a return on equity of 20.5% (up 40 basis points). Banco Industrial continues to be the largest bank in Guatemala; it has the highest market share in total assets (28.3%), total net loans (27.6%), total deposits (25.3%), equity (26%), and net income (31.5%).

As of March 2020 it represented more than a quarter of the Guatemalan banking system.

Historically, and mainly as a result of its conservative credit risk management policies, Banco Industrial has the healthiest loan portfolio in the Guatemalan banking sector, with a 0.9% non-performing loan ratio and a coverage ratio of 202.9% as of March 2020.

The banking system had an average NPL ratio and coverage ratio of 2.1% and 149.7%, respectively.




honduras

Honduras

Best bank: BAC Credomatic Honduras

BAC Credomatic Honduras was the growth story of the market in the year under review. The bank grew assets by 13.4% in 2019, to reach $3.8 billion and a market share of 14.9%, which is up by 102 basis points in the last three years.


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Jacobo Atala,
BAC Credomatic Honduras
 

Deposits grew by 11.7% to reach $2.3 billion, a market share of 15.2%, and loans grew by 10.2% in 2019 (and 12% in the first quarter of 2020) to claim a 14.9% market share.

The bank, under the leadership of country manager Jacobo Atala, claims to be the most diversified Honduran bank by location, product and industry, actively avoiding concentration to lower performance risk.

BAC’s Honduras portfolio represents 12% of the bank’s regional loan portfolio and 13% of deposits. Additionally, the bank’s strong profitability is a result of its balanced business mix (52% retail and 48% commercial) and low-cost funding strategy.

At the end of December 2019, the bank recorded net income of $33 million.




Nicaragua

Nicaragua

Best bank: Banco Lafise

How times change: it wasn’t long ago that Nicaragua was one of the most stable economies in central America and offered fertile conditions for the banking sector to grow.


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Roberto Zamora Llanes,
Banco Lafise
 

However, the anti-government protests that began in 2018 created a political stand-off, and the economy became a causality. In 2019, GDP fell by 5.7% compared with -3.8% in 2018, while inflation spiked at 6.1%, compared with 3.9% in 2018.

Somehow Banco Lafise still managed to keep growing and keep costs under control.

The bank, led by chief executive Roberto Zamora Llanes, grew the number of its customers by 20.9% and total deposits by 9.2%. Its investment portfolio increased to $530 million (up 36%) and its net income grew to $32.8 million – the highest in the banking sector.

The bank’s profitability ratios were also the best in the system: with a return on equity of 12% and a return on assets of 1.9%.

At the same time, Lafise cut its administrative expenses by 15.6% year on year, which helped it achieve an efficiency ratio of 34.7%, another system best.




Panama

Panama

Best bank: Banco General

For a country with such a big reputation for its banking sector there is a surprising lack of challengers to Banco General’s position as the best bank in the country.

General is relentless in not only maintaining its leadership, but in also extending its domination.

It has the most clients – more than one million. Its share of deposits (27.8%) and loans (19.2%) also lead the market. You have to look hard to find a category where the bank doesn’t have the best market share.

It is second in credit cards, although it has increased its market share by 260 basis points in the last year, and it remains the leader in auto loans, personal loans, mortgages, demand deposits, saving deposits and time deposits.

Unsurprisingly the bank reported another set of strong financial results. It increased net profit by 16.1% to $503 million, with a return on equity of 21.1%, a return on assets of 2.7% and an efficiency ratio of 33.4%.

If competitors hope that its winning streak will lead to complacency, they are likely to be disappointed: 2019 was the first in a three-year strategic overhaul to boost revenues and efficiencies by 2021.



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