World’s Best Banks 2022: Central America

High growth and low inflation bump up balance sheets.

Central American economies enjoyed a particularly prosperous 2021. Propelled by soaring remittances and rising commodity prices, the region’s economies fared, on average, better than neighboring South America. Inflation in the region was also substantially lower than in most parts of the Southern Hemisphere, hovering between 3% and 5% in most of the region’s economies in 2021.

Those figures allowed central banks to maintain a supportive monetary policy throughout the year, leading capital markets to solid profitability. Currently, base interest rates range between 2% and 3% in the region.

In this thriving scenario, our Best Bank in Central America, BAC Credomatic, secured its position as the most profitable financial institution in the region.

The secret behind the bank’s success is a solid and diversified presence in all of the region’s leading economies, allowing BAC to offer its clients competitive advantages in both cross-border and domestic operations.

With $27 billion in total assets, $17.2 billion in total loans and $21 billion in total deposits as of September 2021, the bank vastly outperformed the competition in several of the region’s markets.

In a move to stay ahead of the Central American digital banking market, BAC Credomatic focused its innovation efforts on mobile payments, becoming one of the first banks in the region to incorporate ApplePay into its service portfolio.

BAC Credomatic also thrived in helping the region’s small and midsized enterprises (SMEs) through its new e-commerce tool, Click Purchase, allowing businesses to conduct online transactions safely through the bank’s system. Click Purchase generated $546 million and helped 745 SMEs in 2021.

BAC also took home the award for Best Bank in Costa Rica, with a net income of $85 million, a solid 10.7% return on equity (ROE), and a return-on-assets (ROA) of 1.1%. Furthermore, the bank consistently escalated its market share in the country, totaling 27% at the end of 2021. 

Banco Custaclán is our Best Bank of the year in El Salvador for its growing market share and strong loan portfolio. After merging with Scotiabank in 2020, Custaclán took the lead as the country’s fastest-growing financial institution, prioritizing its operations in SMEs and retail. Currently, the bank outperforms its market in most credit-related operations, with a substantial advantage in mortgages. 

A similar trend also took place in Belize. After acquiring Scotiabank’s operations, National Bank of Belize grew undisputed in its territory, securing a nearly 50% market share. The bank’s systematic efforts in sustainability and digitalization helped confirm the bank as the best in Belize in 2021. 

In Guatemala, Banco Industrial took advantage of the macroeconomic tailwinds to post a diversified growth that amounted to a total 11.1% jump in total assets, winning our award.

The bank considerably increased the number of banking agents in rural areas, helping the country’s businesses and producers thrive amid soaring global commodity prices. As a result, agricultural transactions rose 35% year-on-year (YoY).

In Honduras, Banco Ficohsa takes the Best Bank of the year award for recurring investments in financial services and online banking. Ficohsa recorded an 11% jump in assets year-on-year and currently holds Honduras’ largest market share. The bank also saw its net profits rise by 38%, with a 12.9% ROE.

Banco Lafise Bancentro takes our award as the Best Bank in Nicaragua for maintaining its leading position in several cornerstone trends of the year. The bank recorded a 29% growth in total remittances, amounting to a 28.1% market share in the category–the highest in the country.

Lafise also excelled in the international transaction business, with a 35% increase in total transactions leaving the country and a 21% rise in transactions entering the country. 

Furthermore, the bank’s online branch, Bancanet increased its transactions by 28.1%, representing an astonishing 90.7% of the total volume traded by the bank.

The Panamanian economy soared in 2021, outperforming most of its Central American peers. Construction, manufacturing, commerce and shipping helped drive a 15.3% YoY GDP growth. The country’s economy also received a considerable boost from global soaring copper prices, which propelled the country’s Cobre Panam to profitability.

In this environment, Banco General maintained its secular leadership in the loan and deposit business, securing 27.6% of the country’s market share in the former and 18.1% in the latter.

The bank also moved swiftly in the digitalization business, growing its total digital transactions to 58% in the year.

While the country still holds lower levels of digital transactions than most Central and South American economies, recent measures indicate increasing profitability in the industry.