World’s Best Banks 2021: Central America

Global Finance presents this year’s Best Banks in Central America.

Few Central American governments had any fiscal room to move during the past year to either treat the people’s physical health or shore up the nation’s economic health. That made banks all the more important as bulwarks of stability and financial strength.

Despite the social and economic challenges of 2020, Central America’s banking sector benefited from previous investments in digital transformation. Indeed, banks have been regional leaders in spurring technological development in these countries. Our Best Bank award winners are forging ahead with digital transformation as they innovate new products and approaches to finance, all while serving their communities.

For its investments in digital tools, financial relief for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and role in supporting local clients, BAC Credomatic takes

2021 Best Bank awards in three Central American countries: Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama. Controlled by Colombia’s Grupo Aval, the bank is also active in three other countries and thus takes the regional award for Best Bank in Central America.

To serve customers better, and in line with the parent company’s technological orientation, BAC in Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama undertook significant digital transformation. The bank improved digital platforms and expanded its channels to offer services through alternatives, such as WhatsApp. It introduced real-time transfers using debit cards, a system that allows store partners to act as little branches; and Swift gpi to make companies’ cross-border payments safer and more transparent. With these measures, 90% of customer interactions with the bank are now digital. In addition, BAC is embracing new guidelines with respect to sustainability, in both defining appropriate measures and setting achievable, meaningful goals.

Besides the extension of loan payments and other relief measures for individual clients and companies impacted by the Covid-19 health crisis, the bank took various measures to support society in each of the three countries. BAC Credomatic San Jose, in Costa Rica, adopted programs in the area of social responsibility and for empowering small and mid-sized enterprises, as well as financial education for individual clients. BAC Credomatic Panama followed the same path and also funded organizations dedicated to Covid-19’s victims. It further created programs on finance education and empowerment of women. A 20.4% growth in assets was registered by BAC Credomatic Honduras, which now manages $4.5 billion. The bank adopted a special program for SMEs and funded nine organizations focused on health assistance.

The Salvadoran Banco Cuscatlán benefited substantially from the acquisition of Scotiabank El Salvador in 2020. This ambitious merger resulted in a 112% growth in Cuscatlán’s assets, to $3.8 billion, and a 127% jump in deposits. Its efficiency ratio climbed 64.4%. Investment in the integration of the two organizations’ computer systems and digital tools is already delivering benefits for 600,000 new clients.

In Guatemala, Banco Industrial also improved its digital infrastructure, incorporating artificial intelligence into new products and adding features such as voice-activated control. The bank innovated its approach to SMEs—with new credit lines: one for companies founded by women, for example; another was designated for small food stores.

Among the leading banks in Nicaragua, Banco LAFISE Bancentro substantially improved its digital tools during 2020 while preserving its financial health in the face of economic crisis. The bank developed a new digital platform to increase the financial inclusion of small companies, a smart money-payment system for mobile, and a module for payment management with access to financial lines. During the pandemic, Banco LAFISE Bancentro invested $115 million to support the economic recovery and managed a fund that invested in Nicaraguan companies with a high potential for success