World’s Best Banks 2020: Latin America

Latin American banks recognized by Global Finance are recommitting to customer service—with digital tools.

The overriding concern for Global Finance’s 2020 Best Banks in Latin America at present is responding to the personal and economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. Topping to-do lists in the first quarter were measures to protect employees and customers.

Communication has been key to keeping banking services functioning and conveying safety protocols, especially as more employees work from home. Many banks are cutting staff and closing branches. Alongside financial donations to relief efforts, Latin American banks are offering solutions to ease clients’ financial burdens, such as loan payment deferrals and extensions, fee waivers and credit line increases. 

In other respects, the pandemic is pushing banks further down a road they were already traveling. Our Best Banks have made digital transformation a priority over the past year, greatly expanding the capabilities of their online platforms, which enabled them to better respond to customers’ needs at this painful time.  

Santander takes Global Finance’s top honor in the region based on its reinvention through technological initiatives, innovative programs and strategic investments in services for its retail, corporate and small to mid-size enterprise (SME) customers. Santander Global Platform, a program to accelerate innovation with digital capabilities, includes Superdigital, the bank’s online platform. It is now available in Brazil and Chile, rollout slated to reach Mexico, Argentina and five other markets by 2023, with the goal of growing to five million users from a current 500,000. 

In November 2019, Santander invested £350 million ($437 million) in a majority stake in Ebury, an SME foreign exchange platform that currently operates in 19 countries and 140 currencies, which the bank plans to expand to its Latin America markets. Santander’s global merchant services help SMEs grow by broadening payment capabilities for retailers through Getnet, a merchant payment-processing platform. In 2020, Santander intends to roll out the platform in Mexico and its Latin American markets, with the goal of reaching all its 4 million merchant clients. OnePay FX, Santander’s blockchain-based global payments system for SMEs, will also expand to Mexico in 2020. 

In Argentina, Banco Macro demonstrated solid operating performance despite the economic recession. Its sound balance sheet showed a regulatory capital ratio of 27% in 2019, up slightly year-over-year. Macro also boasts better asset quality than the industry average, with nonperforming loans amounting to approximately 2% compared to a 6% peer average. Importantly, the bank’s balance sheet is increasingly funded by deposits rather than from market or external sources; deposits rose 22% in 2019 and now represent 78% of balance sheet liabilities.

This stability provides a foundation for Banco Macro to expand its loan market share of 8% by improving the financial position of its core market of low- and middle-income retail customers, where it is an industry leader in personal loans and credit cards. On the corporate side, its strategy includes assisting SMEs to grow exports.

A longstanding commitment to the financial sector earns Scotiabank Bahamas a country award. In addition to local banking business, it leverages the relationships of its Canadian parent to provide comprehensive service to the firm’s global banking clients, particularly through its leading wealth management business. Scotiabank Bahamas supports the local community through annual donations to benefit local programs.  

RBC Royal Bank, winner in Barbados, is working to simplify operations and transform its business through digitization and optimization of its franchise footprint. Parent Royal Bank of Canada announced plans last December to sell its Eastern Caribbean banking operations and focus on enhancing its traditional services in Barbados and other markets through continued digital innovation. The bank has built a reputation as a strong corporate citizen in Barbados, committed to maintaining a rewarding workplace and contributing to the vibrancy of the community.

Belize Bank repeats its home-country win thanks to its broad franchise serving individual and business clients with a wide range of financial products. Its strong financial profile—including sound capitalization, superior operating performance and higher loan-portfolio asset quality than domestic peers—gives it an edge. This has also allowed it to continue expanding solutions that help build its market share in loans (No. 3 nationally) and deposits (No. 2).

Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz continues to excel, with innovative product offerings that are popular with both new and existing customers, earning a country win in Bolivia. It is attracting younger customers with its successful Banx account. Providing small businesses with greater access to financing is another strategic priority. These initiatives have helped BMSC achieve an 84% customer satisfaction rate and 82% loyalty, and strengthen its position as the leading institution in Bolivia with the top market share in loans (15%) and deposits (17%). Ongoing initiatives include refinements to its online- and mobile-banking applications and the rollout of a new digital banking platform for corporate clients.  

Brazil’s winner, Banco Bradesco, is transforming its business with a robust tech and digital strategy. Its digital bank, Next, grew exponentially in 2019 and 77% of these new digital customers were new to Bradesco. The online platform claims credit for a 40% increase in corporate loans and a 47% increase in retail loans via digital channels during 2019. 

Banco Bradesco is also utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and IBM’s Watson to develop tech initiatives and working to spur innovations in finance through Inovabra, a business ecosystem that connects companies, startups, educators and investors to collaborate on new business ideas. The bank exhibits solid revenue diversification, with a growing insurance segment that contributed 29% of profit at parent Grupo Bradesco.

Cayman National Bank (CNB) is the leading domestic franchise in the Cayman Islands, offering a broad range of banking solutions for corporate and retail clients. It posted record earnings in 2019 atop a well-capitalized balance sheet that experienced 17% growth in equity. With the announced sale of 75% of CNB to Republic Financial Holdings of Trinidad & Tobago, CNB now has the opportunity to cement its position in the Caymans market, backed by the resources of one of the Caribbean’s largest financial institutions.

Banco de Chile provides comprehensive and differentiated banking services through a broad distribution network, earning it industry-leading customer service recognition—and Best Bank designation in Chile. Banco de Chile’s long history in its home market gives it a competitive advantage; it’s the top bank in the country by deposits and No. 2 in loan origination. It benefits from rich goodwill stemming from its commitment to education and disaster relief. Strategic priorities include the ongoing transformation of its digital platform and service model, aimed at driving efficiencies required to reach a sustainable long-term return on equity (ROE) of 18%. Transactions through its highly ranked mobile application rose 29% in 2019.  

Our winner in Colombia, Banco de Bogota, has used an innovative digital branch strategy to improve customer service via an online portal and mobile banking app powered by data analytics. A new service partners Banco de Bogota with domestic retailer Grupo Exito for the display and sale of tech products that bank clients can purchase at a discount and with favorable financing terms.The bank’s tech-centric strategy produced a 269% increase in digital sales of new savings accounts, credit cards, payroll loans and mortgages last year. 

Banco de Bogota’s corporate, middle-market and SME clients now have a dedicated website for banking services. The bank, which operates in Panama, the Bahamas and the US, is building its regional profile as well, acquiring Panama’s $5 billion Multibank Financial Group, late last year.

BAC Credomatic continues to refine its digital capabilities to take the win for Costa Rica. Its innovations include a payments system for retail customers to transfer funds among peers and smartphone-based contactless point-of-sale capabilities—the first from a Central American bank. Its commitment to digital solutions appears to be paying off: It experienced a 282% increase in online transactions during 2019. BAC Creditomatic’s 2020 strategy includes developing greater capabilities with AI. 

Banreservas, a repeat country winner in the Dominican Republic, continues to expand its digital and online offerings. The largest institution in the republic, with a 33% deposit market share, it offers service in all provinces. Its digital platform saw 23% growth in transaction volume last year. And it introduced a new application for business and corporate clients, with new features including the facilitation of online payments. A cross-selling strategy linking the bank’s business lines yielded $16 million in new loans in 2019. 

Produbanco established a comparative advantage over its peers in Ecuador to take the country win. One initiative, the Innovation Center, defines and prioritizes innovative projects, including digital offices, additional mobile applications and contactless point-of-sale capabilities. Produbanco identified the SME market as a strong area of growth and provides integrated advisory services and tailored financial products and solutions to these commercial clients. Importantly, it promotes an entrepreneurial mindset among its employees to accelerate implementation of new ideas. Reinforcing its digital strategy, Produbanco continues to forge strategic alliances with fintechs and academia. 

Banco Cuscatlán earns a country win for El Salvador by prioritizing customer satisfaction with an expanded network of service points, a drive to foster innovation through technology and a focus on diversifying its loan portfolio to reach more business clients. Loans to SMEs have increased 70% since 2016. Corporate loans, as a result, now represent 36% of the bank’s portfolio compared to 21% in 2016. Banco Cuscatlán is a leading credit card bank, with a 19% market share. A $25 million investment is expected to advance its near-term goal to command 25% of the market through partnerships with affinity groups, an enhanced rewards program and more online solutions. Banco Cuscatlán plans to integrate its acquisition of Scotiabank El Salvador this year, opening up significant cross-sell opportunities. 

Banco Industrial hopes to maintain its leading position in Guatemala in categories including loan origination, deposits, FX and private banking through new digital and online capabilities. While Banco Industrial is a full-service bank, corporate loans represent 70% of the portfolio. The bank wants to diversify its loan origination into retail by increasing the number of service points, particularly in rural areas, through third-party banking agents and cross-selling strategies. 

Banco Industrial became Guatemala’s first financial institution to let customers use their banking application without drawing down their mobile-data plan. Banco Industrial is also using WhatsApp to provide better communication between clients and its customer service representatives, and has added new capabilities for funds transfer and initiating auto loans online. 

Banco Atlántida is betting it can maintain its top market share of deposits in Honduras with a digital account-opening process that reduces the time to open from 20 minutes to five; 60% of new accounts are now originated on this platform. Banco Atlántida opened its first digital business center last year to provide more personalized service for a range of loan products. The bank is also using AI to leverage WhatsApp to better communicate with customer service representatives. 

New online products and digital capabilities are also at the center of  National Commercial Bank’s strategy, and helped it bring home the win for Jamaica. NCB’s Agile Labs initiative focuses on digital lending and improving the onboarding of new credit card accounts. Commercial customers now have access to GoIPO, a portal that facilitates online submission for initial public offerings. NCB’s Corporate Learning Centre, a differentiating factor in our selection, is an educational resource for employee training and certification and promotes a culture of innovation. NCB recently combined its corporate, commercial and consumer banks into one division to improve governance and efficiency.

BBVA Bancomer is leading the reinvention of Mexico’s banking industry through a series of technology and service initiatives. Progress to date at broadening digital product offerings resulted in a 41% increase in customers using digital channels. A $3 billion investment over the next five years focuses on upgrading ATMs and branches, advancing the bank’s digital strategy and leveraging data analytics. BBVA Bancomer derives an important competitive advantage from Open Talent, an international fintech competition that links entrepreneurs and startups with parent BBVA Group. The fruits of Open Talent include Openpay, a Mexican startup that BBVA acquired, which is focused on developing new methods and better security in payments.

Banco LAFISE Bancentro offers a broad range of services to the consumer segment, but excels as a leading corporate bank in Nicaragua. It executed the country’s first diversified payment rights transaction and now holds a 32% share of the DPR market, amounting to approximately $8 billion annually. DPRs help Banco LAFISE clients make payments related to international trade finance in the agricultural, mining, construction and retail sectors as well as family remittances and transfers. This requires scale in foreign exchange execution, which Banco LAFISE dominates, with a 41% share. FX also provides cross-sell opportunities for new loans and financial products to the bank’s corporate and retail client base.

Banco General has a three-year strategic plan to build on its position as Panama’s largest bank through initiatives to boost client service and sales productivity. Innovative programs such as BGLab utilize data analytics to improve underwriting decisions and operating efficiency. The creation of a digital transformation unit, BGx, furthers the bank’s progress in refining its online- and mobile-banking platforms. Banco General operates a robust investment bank; it participated in high-profile capital markets transactions last year representing over $1.5 billion in volume in the energy and retail sectors.

Banco Itaú Paraguay is using agile, lean and design-minded methods to foster innovation as it works to improve customers’ digital experience. This approach chalked up a success last year with a successful redesign of its personal-banking application. Digital customers now account for 53% of retail clients and 81% of corporate clients. Banco Itaú Paraguay leverages the resources and infrastructure of its parent, Brazil’s Itaú Unibanco, to strengthen governance, risk management and internal processes, particularly in its anti-money laundering and know-your-customer processes. 

BBVA Peru is looking to differentiate itself through new products and digital channels, no-fee and reward accounts, and innovative products in the payments space—one of them an interest-free payment program that includes 2,000 retailers and 7,500 points of sale that saw 44% growth in participation last year. BBVA Peru’s sponsorship of the Peruvian Football Federation included a special-edition debit card that attracted 360,000 customers. The private bank, meanwhile, has aligned itself with investment management at parent BBVA Group, resulting in more comprehensive and consistent investment recommendations.

After seismic activity in January damaged the southwest region of Puerto Rico. Banco Popular, the commonwealth’s largest bank, reactivated Embracing Puerto Rico, the fund created following Hurricane Maria. The bank is seeing progress amid these challenges with new customer growth; higher debit and credit card transaction volume bolstered by the acquisition of a $74 million card portfolio; and a growing digital presence. 

Scotiabank was a clear winner in the nations of Trinidad and Tobago as well as Turks and Caicos. Scotiabank’s Caribbean arms are engaged in an aggressive digital transformation focused on enhancing the customer experience. The Scotia app, launched in May 2019, offers new mobile solutions including bill payment and money transfers. In December, the bank announced a seven-year initiative with Visa to develop innovative payment solutions for Caribbean and Central American Visa cardholders. Scotiabank is redesigning its Scotiabank Centre into a digital space, launching a new generation of ATMs, and introducing real-time account monitoring. Corporate and commercial clients can tap into specialized expertise in many sectors, including hospitality, real estate, media and telecommunications, power and infrastructure and oil and gas.

Banco Santander Uruguay has established a name for offering tailored banking solutions and strong customer service. Last year it posted solid balance sheet growth, with its loan portfolio expanding 15% and its deposit base rising 14%. Santander supports small-business lending through its Prospera program. Extended to Uruguay last year, Prospera leverages the bank’s digital transformation and focuses on the credit needs of entrepreneurs through specialized services and product offerings, which will expand in 2020 to include savings accounts and payment solutions. These programs helped boost the bank’s financial performance, with a 24% increase in profit for a 30% ROE. 

FirstBank, a full-service institution, conducts consumer and commercial lending and holds a 30% market share in deposits. FirstBank Virgin Islands accounts for 5% of the loan portfolio and 15% of the deposit base of parent First BanCorp of Puerto Rico. It seeks to expand its market through cross-selling initiatives, particularly in the SME market. As the region continues to recover from Hurricane Irma and the storms that followed, FirstBank will remain a critical player.

With a leading position in Venezuela, Mercantil Banco Universal continues to transform its technological capabilities to expand its services to its consumer client base, as well as its commercial customers in the agricultural, tourism, manufacturing, and construction sectors.  Mercantil Banco is accelerating the development of new applications to lead the country in e-commerce banking by leveraging AI, and implementing a hybrid cloud infrastructure using IBM Watson. The bank hopes to capitalize on the growing trends in card payments, and was the first institution in Venezuela to facilitate e-commerce through deposit accounts with its debt card payment application.

Latin America Winners

Argentina Banco Marco
Bahamas Scotiabank Bahamas
Barbados RBC Royal Bank
Belize Belize Bank
Bolivia Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz
Brazil Banco Bradesco
Cayman Islands Cayman National Bank
Chile Banco de Chile
Colombia Banco de Bogotá
Costa Rica BAC Credomatic
Dominican Republic Banreservas
Ecuador Produbanco
El Salvador Banco Cuscatlán
Guatemala Banco Industrial
Honduras Banco Atlántida
Jamaica National Commercial Bank
Mexico BBVA Bancomer
Nicaragua Banco LAFISE Bancentro
Panama Banco General
Paraguay Banco Itaú Paraguay
Peru BBVA Peru
Puerto Rico Banco Popular de Puerto Rico
Trinidad & Tobago Scotiabank Trinidad & Tobago
Turks & Caicos Scotiabank Turks & Caicos
Uruguay Banco Santander Uruguay
US Virgin Islands FirstBank Virgin Islands
Venezuela Mercantil Banco Universal