The leading banks over the past 12 months from the Americas.



Santander Argentina 

Santander Argentina has gained an enviable position in a challenging market that is characterised by volatile economic growth and high inflation. After two years of recession, the country’s prospects have been worsened by Covid-19 and the social restrictions that followed. During these dire conditions, Santander held on to its leading position across a number of markets, with a noticeable lead in the consumer loans market and in terms of total private sector deposits. 

In 2019, the bank looked at ways to reduce internal bureaucracy and speed up the introduction of new technology and new technical staff. It also refined customer segments and created products that meet those specific needs. For example, it set out to attract more female entrepreneurs and began offering them business training in addition to financing. It also looked at young customers and created a new credit card and a savings account coupled with the prospect of mentoring and access to scholarships; 13-to-17-year-old Argentines can now also apply for a pre-paid credit card. 

Also of note is Santander’s continuous push towards digitalisation, an effort that gained new impetus during the coronavirus crisis and which helped bring the bank’s services and financial assistance to the broader community. Examples include: a new priority service for pensioners; a priority account for health workers; and the ability to spend rewards gained by customers for using Santander’s accounts on food, delivery and healthcare apps.

“The pandemic has tested us, but we have overcome it with great teamwork, adaptability and resilience,” says Santander Argentina’s chief executive Sergio Lew. “Our customers asked us to be close and supportive, and we were – through special loans for households and businesses, donations, and agreements with healthcare companies to help communities. We will emerge from this crisis stronger, more agile and more digital.”


CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank (Bahamas) 

A solid capital base put CIBC FirstCaribbean’s Bahamian operations in a good position as customers began requesting financial assistance when Covid-19 hit the country. All segments of the bank were involved in these efforts, from retail to corporate banking and wealth management. They resulted in deferred payments, emergency loans and concessions to help individuals and businesses cushion the financial impact of the pandemic on households and the economy. 

The bank upgraded its corporate online banking service, launching a new service for businesses in March this year to reduce the need to visit a branch. The upgrade built on a long-standing push towards digital innovation. This includes, for example, a payment service, 1st Pay, that allows retail users to transfer funds to anyone from their mobile phone simply using a phone number or an email address – an important innovation for the local market that, the bank says, has led to it gaining new customers. The service was of particular relevance to small and micro businesses, as it helped introduce a digital element to more traditional and less resourceful businesses.

CIBC FirstCaribbean’s managing director Marie Rodland-Allen says, “One of the bank’s major strategic priorities is to create an omni-channel, everyday banking experience – throughout the pandemic this has become a bigger focus for us and our clients. As a consequence, a significant amount of our clients have signed up for online banking and mobile banking.” She adds that the bank will rely on technology not only to improve the customer experience but also to provide better products and to improve the bank’s efficiency ratios. The bank’s ultimate goal is supporting the local economy, she says. “We are committed to supporting our clients during the Covid-19 pandemic.”


Scotiabank Barbados 

Scotiabank Barbados is proud of its response to Covid-19. Starting from its employees, all head office staff were able to work from home and remain productive. While branches remained open, 30% of branch staff working on specific projects could work remotely and protocols were quickly put in place to ensure the safety of employees and customers at the physical location. 

Scotiabank also encouraged customers to stay home, and worked on ways to engage with them online and through social media, encouraging them to sign up to the bank’s online and mobile banking services. It also launched a customer assistance programme that offers the option to defer payments on mortgages, personal loans, auto loans, and credit cards, which was taken up by more than 19,000 individual customers, small businesses and larger corporate clients. 

“Banking safely and managing financial commitments have been our customers’ major concerns,” says David Parks, managing director, Caribbean East at Scotiabank. “Our online and mobile [banking services] allow our customers to bank from home and stay safe; [and] we have dedicated resources to help with financial relief measures.” 

The bank has made significant investments to provide customers with better banking options, which are part of a general push towards a digital transformation of the business, adds Mr Parks. One of the most recent developments is the introduction of new security features on the Scotiabank Caribbean mobile banking app. These include a biometric sign-in through fingerprint and face recognition – the only app in the local market to offer this, notes Scotiabank – and a multi-factor authentication system to verify user identity, data encryption, and transactions notifications. 

Scotiabank Barbados is also proud of the inclusive design of the app, which, thanks to font-size options and a voice-over function, allows customers with different abilities to use the service.  


The Bank of NT Butterfield & Son 

An economy heavily dependent on tourism, Bermuda finds itself in a painfully precarious condition as Covid-19 has not only hit its residents, it has also made it impossible for others to visit its shores. “Covid-19 led to Bermuda’s tourism, hospitality, construction and retail sectors abruptly shutting down, resulting in thousands of layoffs,” notes Michael Neff, managing director of Bermuda and international wealth at Butterfield. 

The bank provided relief to clients with payment deferrals on mortgages, loans and credit cards between March and September. And its various centres remained open throughout the crisis to process government relief payments and to keep funds flowing within the local economy. The bank also improved its online and mobile banking services for both corporate and retail clients, and upgraded the majority of its ATMs on the island. 

The crisis has also accelerated the bank’s plans for other digital enhancements, notes Mr Neff, including the implementation of electronic signature protocols across all businesses, which replaces the need for ‘wet ink’ signatures. 

The focus on technology will continue in the future. But the bank also plans to strengthen its capital. “Against a backdrop of economic dislocation and low interest rates, we are focused on carefully managing costs to help offset revenue pressures and continue to build capital,” says Mr Neff. 

This is important. While the local economy has tentatively reopened, the bank expects that many businesses will continue to struggle and require additional financial assistance. Butterfield will also focus on diversifying its balance sheet and sources of income, leveraging on its international operations. 

In July 2019, it completed the acquisition of ABN Amro’s Channel Islands business, which provides banking services to financial intermediaries and which complements Butterfield’s existing presence in Guernsey and Jersey, as well as its broader corporate banking business in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. “We are growing our Channel Islands presence, and will continue to consider potential acquisitions of fee-generating businesses – primarily trust and fiduciary services – in high quality offshore markets,” says Mr Neff.


Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz 

During the coronavirus pandemic, Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz (BMSC) played its part in supporting the Bolivian economy. The bank offered loans to companies struggling to pay employees at a favourable and fixed interest rate. It created a new credit approval model for small and medium-sized businesses where decisions are taken quickly by specialised staff. And, naturally, it also encouraged customers to use its ATM network, mobile banking and internet banking instead of visiting physical branches. BMSC’s customers can make balance inquiries, transfers, payments and open accounts through its digital channels, which it has upgraded.

Even before Covid-19 hit, BMSC was focused on improving its digital strategy. It started by updating its core banking system, replacing completely the previous software – a project that required significant investment and time. It also worked on improving the ease-of-use and security of its digital channels. It introduced QR codes, which can be used to transfer funds on its mobile app; and allowed customers to transfer money to anyone, whether banking with BMSC or not, using a code that is texted to the beneficiary’s mobile phone and which can be used at any of the bank’s ATMs to withdraw cash. The lender is also working on another project to improve efficiency and the resilience of its computing centres. 

In addition, Mercantil Santa Cruz Foundation has been channelling donations by customers towards a number of programmes that support local communities: a scholarship programme for vulnerable children and young adults; two medical treatment programmes for children and adults; and a sports initiative to engage with youth at risk of social exclusion. As a result, the bank says, it helped more than 14,700 children and teenagers and more than 2500 parents and teachers over the past six years.


Santander Brasil

Honourable mention: BTG Pactual

“Since the onset of the pandemic, our priority has been to support our employees and their families, our customers and the community,” says Santander Brasil’s chief executive Sergio Rial. Brazil suffered the world’s second highest number of coronavirus-related deaths. Gross domestic product is set to contract by 5.8% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund. 

Along with other lenders, Santander joined Brazil’s emergency fund programme to extend 40bn reais ($7bn) worth of credit to small and medium-sized businesses. It also created specific financing for micro-entrepreneurs, which includes a three-month grace period on working capital loans repayments. And offered delayed repayments to other customers too. By the end of the first quarter of 2020, credit to companies had surpassed the same value a year earlier by 70bn reais, says the bank. 

“The biggest request from people and businesses has been for financial relief to get through this challenging period, and we have been able to meet their needs. [But] we can always do more,” says Mr Rial. 

Digital channels have helped ensure the safety of staff and customers, as well as the disbursement of emergency financing. Even before the crisis hit, Santander was working to reorganise its activities to provide a better service to customers. 

In 2019, Santander pushed ahead with the consolidation of its internal systems to better adopt new technology and create an environment more conducive to innovation. This new environment helped develop a number of products, which include: Sim, a platform that accepts cars or motorcycles as collaterals and offers cheaper loans; EmDia, a platform that connects creditors with consumers who are late with their bill payments and that offers fast solutions; and Santander Auto, a car insurance partnership with HDI Seguros. 

Mr Rial is proud of the bank’s work and how it dealt with the challenges of the past year, serving its customers and the community, and preparing for what might come next “thanks to the resilience and strength of our people”.



A leading name in Canada, Scotiabank has not only improved its offering at home, but has also fine-tuned its international products. In 2019, the bank grouped its previously separate divisions of wealth management for Canada and Latin American under a new global group, boosting synergies. It also redesigned its digital banking app for the Canadian market, which resulted in a simpler interface, easier navigation and a more efficient help function. The improvements led to greater user engagement, with daily log-ins per user up 20% compared to the previous version. 

Its tech teams were also centre stage of the bank’s Covid-19 response. The teams were able to ensure that the mounting requests for financial assistance could be handled by Scotiabank’s digital channels thanks to the coordinated work of the digital hubs across Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia, the bank’s core markets. The number of online transactions spiralled in just weeks to match numbers that would typically be recorded over a full year.

“I am exceedingly proud of the ways in which our team has supported our customers, and by extension our communities, during this time of acute need,” says Scotiabank’s president and chief executive Brian J Porter. “We will continue to focus on providing important financial advice and services to our customers over the coming months as they continue to navigate through the pandemic. 

“Our team has demonstrated tremendous resilience over the past year,” he continues. “Regardless of the circumstances, we will [do everything possible] to support our customers, employees, and communities, while working to deliver for our shareholders. There is more to do to build a healthier, stronger, more inclusive society, and you can be sure that we will continue to be a resilient and constructive partner.”

Cayman Islands

Cayman National Bank 

A solid local bank, Cayman National Bank has continued to invest in its people, products and the community. It has reorganised its leadership roles and introduced new training tools. It added chip-and-PIN and contactless technology to its cards; and created a new service alerting customers of transactions on their account, to reduce the risk of fraudulent transactions, and of any other details that would help them manage their services and finances – for example, notifications about forthcoming card expiration dates, or low credit card balance or credit card payment dates. 

When Covid-19 reached the Cayman Islands, the bank acted promptly, providing a three-month loan repayment suspension to customers, and a further three months for customers who needed it. The bank also joined an initiative to create a standby credit line for the government to help it deal with emergency measures and aid the recovery of the local economy.

Cayman National sponsored an initiative to support local businesses, ‘Shop local, support local’, and directly sponsored restaurants that joined the initiative so that they could provide meals to vulnerable people. The bank’s work with the local community also included an educational campaign, the ‘Mask Task Design Competition’, to encourage the use of face masks – the competition called for ideas for original face masks that would be judged based on functionality, creativity, and environmental friendliness. Submissions were voted by staff and through social media, in an effort to boost engagement across the population. 

Further, Cayman National donated to the LIFE (Literacy is for Everyone) organisation to provide laptops and internet connection to students in need of assistance. 


Banco de Chile

Honourable mention: Banco Santander 

Chief executive Eduardo Ebensperger is proud of Banco de Chile’s prompt response to Covid-19. The bank’s measures included emergency financing for small and medium-sized businesses and the ability to modify terms of existing loans entirely through the bank’s online channels, both for business clients and for individuals. Its measures supported more than 29,000 businesses with $1.9bn in emergency loans. Banco de Chile also directly helped Chileans by delivering personal care and health items to retirement homes and door-to-door in vulnerable parts of the capital, Santiago.

What Banco de Chile has achieved on the digital front is also noteworthy, as it launched a new digital account aimed at Chileans who are not yet served by the financial sector and which has already attracted 100,000 new customers, according to Mr Ebensperger. “Banking digitalisation is a trend that has intensified in recent months in Chile [and] we have accelerated the digital transformation of our institution,” he says. 

This process, adds Mr Ebensperger, has led to the creation of a new customer service model in 2020 that is set to improve productivity and efficiency by reorganising the branch network and adding self-service kiosks and smart ATMs. 

The bank also launched an awareness campaign to reduce cybersecurity incidents and it made fresh investments to improve technology and processes, as well as hiring new staff. In 2019, about 70% of all customers’ transactions were carried out through digital platforms with no security breach complaints from customers, says Banco de Chile.

“We aspire to continue being the best bank for our customers and the best place to work for our staff. We aim to be the benchmark for digital banking in Chile, generating the best experience for our clients and pursuing sustainable growth for the future,” says Mr Ebensperger.


Banco de Bogotá 

In 2019, Banco de Bogotá proudly opened what it calls ‘new concept’ branches where, in addition to banking services, customers can purchase mobile phones, laptops, TV sets and video games through a partner store. The idea is to merge the entertainment value of an electronics store with the utility of part of the items on sale. 

The wider the penetration of mobile phones and computers among the population, the bigger the chances customers will use digital channels for their banking. When Covid-19 hit and social distancing measures were introduced, visits to any bank branch became more challenging but the need for greater digital access to banking services became more evident. The acceleration of this trend found Banco de Bogotá well prepared. Technology, says chief executive Alejandro Figueroa Jaramillo, plays an important role in ensuring the sustainability of the institution and goes hand-in-hand with its corporate strategy. 

Sustainability policies are now an integral part of the bank’s overall strategy and help define the role it plays in Colombia’s economy and society, as well as its objectives. “In 2019, Banco de Bogotá aligned its corporate strategy with its sustainability strategy in order to promote the wellbeing of all stakeholders, contributing to economic prosperity and generating a positive environmental impact,” says Mr Figueroa Jaramillo. 

Technology has helped creating more sustainable products and services, he adds, reducing the overall negative environmental impact and improving financial inclusion. During the crisis, the bank created solutions to provide wider access to financial services, using digital channels and offering several relief measures that covered more than 30% of the loan portfolio; it received more than 1 million requests for refinancing. It also opened new credit lines to help companies comply with their payroll payments and keep staff employed. And it was instrumental in ensuring the transmission of the government’s emergency measures.

Within or outside of its branches, technology will be at the centre of Banco de Bogotá’s future. The bank aims to reach even more Colombians who still do not have access to financial services through digital channels, and to nurture and train staff to be able to fully exploit available technology. The ultimate aim is to ensure the organisation is ready to deal with a protracted, challenging environment.

Costa Rica

BAC Credomatic 

BAC Credomatic is a group operating across Central America that provides consumer and commercial loans, credit cards, transaction services and trade finance. Over the past few years, its operations in Costa Rica have been growing steadily in terms of the size of the local assets, deposits and the volumes of receivables processed. Its local physical presence was also upgraded with the introduction of a new type of branch that encourages customers to use digital terminals for transactions and talk to staff about specific concerns or advice. 

BAC Credomatic has recently boosted its digital offering too. It redesigned its mobile app and has extended an online service previously reserved for corporate clients to smaller companies too. Through the bank’s online channel, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can access a payroll payment system, which BAC adapted from the one offered to larger companies and which was designed to handle larger volumes of payments. The SME version is flexible enough to deal with much smaller numbers. The bank also saw the growth of its e-commerce platform, launched in April 2018, and which by the end of 2019 had processed more than 1800 transactions worth $29m.

During the Covid-19 crisis, BAC Credomatic showed support to customers across the region. Its financial relief measures included delaying repayments for personal loans and mortgages for up to two months, and delaying the payment of credit card debt. In addition, it launched campaigns encouraging customers to stay at home and to help fraud prevention. It also created a webinar series for SMEs to provide information and advice during the emergency. In an effort to boost spirits, it launched Momentos Online, a series of concerts featuring local artists in five of the countries where the group operates, streamed live via Facebook and Instagram. 

Dominican Republic

Banco Popular Dominicano 

Banco Popular Dominicano’s commitment to sustainability is laudable. The lender is an early signatory to the Principles of Responsible Banking of the UN Environment Programme, and has launched a series of products and initiatives in line with these principles. These include Go Eco, a loan package that offers favourable terms for the purchase of solar panels and hybrid and electric vehicles. In connection with the product, Banco Popular also installed a photovoltaic charging station for its customers’ electric and hybrid vehicles, powered by 14 solar panels. 

The lender has now a loan portfolio related to renewable energy of more than $188m, the largest in the country, says Banco Popular, after having either financed or provided guarantees to a total of eight projects including wind, solar and biomass energy infrastructures. Impressively, these projects combined can contribute to 10% of the national energy capacity. 

The bank also became the first in the country to launch a green leasing financing product for companies purchasing solar panels and electric vehicles. And it has been using solar energy to power its own operations – as of January this year, it had mounted solar panels on 54 of its offices across and branches across the island and on 30 covered car parks.

Banco Popular’s digital efforts are impressive too. In 2019, the number of digital transactions grew significantly to represent nearly 80% of the total; more than half of these were carried out through the Popular app. The bank also invested to improve the efficiency of digital channels and their security. About $25m was spent in 2019 alone on technological innovation and development. 

This meant that when Covid-19 reached the Dominican Republic, Banco Popular had the digital tools to deliver financial assistance during the emergency and the right framework in place to help it find a sustainable path for the future.


Banco de la Producción 

Ecuador is among the Latin American countries to experience a double-digit recession this year. The World Bank forecasts a decrease of 11% in gross domestic product for 2020, caused by the enormous pressures of Covid-19 on an economy already struggling because of plummeting oil prices. The UN sees the expansion of internet access and digital technologies as vital to the recovery of the country. The expansion of digital financial services will no doubt play an important role too.

Banco de la Producción’s (Produbanco’s) efforts to develop and promote the use of digital channels should be noted. As online and mobile transactions grew during the crisis, the bank continued working to better understand customer behaviour and its own use of data. Even before the crisis, it was looking into this area and created an internal innovation centre, Produlab, formed by multidisciplinary teams using a number of innovative market research techniques. 

One of the products that were born out of the Produbanco’s recent digital efforts is its version of a mobile wallet, PayPhone, which customers can use to transfer money to merchants or to personal contacts. Online stores can also offer the choice to pay for purchases by typing the customer’s mobile number on their website; after this is done, customers can select a preferred payment method from their phone.

Produbanco also created a new digital savings tool, Ahorro a Tu Gusto, to help customers with specific goals: saving towards a deposit for a house, a car, their or their children’s education. The tool offers the option to save small but regular amounts and to increase them over time; it tries to motivate users by displaying the image of the wanted item. The bank is also encouraging younger Ecuadorians to save and has created savings accounts specifically for children and teenagers.

El Salvador

Banco Agrícola 

Banco Agrícola has been working to improve both the features of its products and the infrastructure needed to support them. In 2019, it joined forces with other banks to create a faster and safer system of interbank payments that ultimately allows customers to make online transfers and payments to another bank’s account. 

For businesses, this is particularly relevant for the management of payroll payments. Banco Agrícola registered rising volumes of transactions since the implementation of the system, with volumes of about 70,000 transactions a month for the first half of 2020. The system was particularly useful this year, when Covid-19 required social distancing. 

Also in 2019, Banco Agrícola created an online payment platform for businesses, Wompi, which works through both the Visa and Mastercard channels and where payment can also be made using special loyalty points by Banco Agrícola; the bank is working to add the option to pay in instalments through its credit card. It also introduced QR codes as part of its payment solutions, which were quickly taken up by local businesses in a sign that this technology can help financial inclusion, says the bank, as it offers an easy way to pay for both merchants and customers. 

Banco Agrícola’s digital savings account, Cuenta Fácil, has promoted financial inclusion too. It is the bank’s first completely digital product and, to open it, customers are not required to make an initial deposit but can use it as they are able to save. The bank is proud of the fact that the account has attracted large numbers of young customers, many of them students. 

Thanks to these efforts, Banco Agrícola reports that it had reached more than 200,000 digital customers by the end of 2019. This is positive news in a country of about six million people with high poverty rates and low financial inclusion.


Banco Industrial 

As the coronavirus began spreading across Guatemala, Banco Industrial tried to anticipate the damage that the pandemic would cause to its clients, as well as to the bank. 

It rushed to strengthen its liquidity position and secure funding, says Banco Industrial’s CEO Luis Lara Grojec. It also closely monitored its financial margins and the management of its loan portfolio, so that the bank could better manage emergency requests coming from its business clients. They too, says Mr Lara Grojec, were trying to strengthen their liquidity position, and quickly, and relied on the bank to support them through such unprecedented times with additional working capital loans. 

Business clients are of particular importance to Banco Industrial, as corporate loans account for more than two thirds of the total portfolio. But the bank wants to focus on smaller businesses too, offering products that would help secure a larger market share and that, as for the larger businesses segment, would rely on digital platforms.

Technology has helped offer greater personalisation. In 2019, Banco Industrial rolled out a series of new services that include a WhatsApp service for businesses and a mobile phone contactless payment service, among others. Thanks in part to these additions, the bank saw rising numbers of transactions passing through its digital apps in the first six months of 2020. Its Bi en Línea app, for example, has registered more than 74 billion transactions, a year-on-year increase of 30% compared to 2019. 

With the impact of Covid-19 expected to last well into 2021, the bank aims to create more personalised solutions for its clients in Guatemala, as well as in the other markets where it operates. “We will continue the digital transformation of our organisation, strengthening regional operations through our subsidiaries in Honduras, El Salvador and Panama, and focusing on the unification of our digital platforms,” says Mr Lara Grojec.


Banco del País 

In a deadly one-two punch, hurricane Eta hit as Central America and the Caribbean were already dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. Although weakened once it reached land, Eta caused torrential rain that led to floods and landslides in Honduras, affecting more than a sixth of the local population. Floods forced the evacuation of the Sula Valley, an area by the Caribbean coast that is one of the economic engines of the country, complicating further the recovery of economic activity that was brought to a near halt because of the protracted lockdown introduced since mid-March in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. 

“We are facing the aftermath of one of the greatest natural disasters that has affected our country,” says María del Rosario Selman-Housein, chief executive of Banco del País (Banpaís). She says that the gravity of the moment calls for a strong and proactive banking sector that “will play a crucial role as the country begins rebuilding the infrastructure devastated by hurricane Eta”.

Banpaís is well placed to support these efforts. The bank went into this unprecedented crisis in good shape, with a relatively stronger capital base than its peers and low levels of non-performing loans. This allowed the bank flexibility to help ailing corporate clients requesting assistance, either through suspending loan repayments, granting lower interest rates, or providing new loans to keep operations afloat. 

“We have granted debt relief programmes and access to new funds to more than 40,000 clients,” which, says Ms del Rosario Selman-Housein, includes 6000 micro-entrepreneurs. To better serve both big and small clients, Banpaís intends on continuing to invest in technology, “looking for ways to streamline our processes and help our clients to meet all of their financial needs through various digital solutions”. 

She adds: “We will continue to develop our strategy focusing on becoming a digital bank and expect to play a major role in the reconstruction of the Honduran economy.”


Scotiabank Jamaica 

Scotiabank Jamaica had been promoting the use of alternative channels long before Covid-19 made their importance obvious to local customers. For example, in 2019 it introduced security alerts and upgraded its ATM networks, installing 57 new ‘intelligent deposit machines’ that, in addition to disbursing cash, can also scan and process cheque deposits. Scotiabank plans to increase the number of these machines to 77 by the end of the 2020, as part of its ongoing digitisation effort. 

In March, as the first coronavirus case was found in Jamaica, Scotiabank upgraded its app to allow customers to do more remotely. It added the ability to check credit card activity, make transfers to non-Scotiabank accounts, mobile phone top-ups and new security features. Further, in May, a specially-created team worked with customers to help them use online services, an effort that was particularly useful for older customers who needed to stay safely at home. The bank also offered data-free access to its mobile app thanks to arrangements with the local telecommunication providers.

During the emergency, Scotiabank worked with its business clients too, both by incentivising the use of digital channels and by reviewing the terms of their loans. In addition to a dedicated helpline, it eliminated fees for the use of most of its digital services. It also offered deferrals on loan payments for individuals and small business customers for an initial period of three months. 

The bank also offered loan restructuring arrangements to business banking customers. Both retail and corporate clients could apply entirely online; about a quarter of customers that had an outstanding loan with Scotiabank joined the programme. The bank has since rolled out a second phase of assistance, offering debt consolidation, changes to loan terms or deferrals to customers that are still in need of financial support.


Banco Mercantil del Norte 

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit Mexico, Banco Mercantil del Norte (Banorte) was ready to support its customers with a programme that included deferred capital and interest payments for four months and which was extended to nearly a third of the bank’s individual and small businesses clients. 

“We were the first bank to launch a relief programme for consumer and small and medium-sized enterprise customers; we maintain close communication with these types of customers to understand their circumstances and provide tailor-made options to stay afloat,” says chairman Carlos Hank González.

The crisis intensified Banorte’s focus on digital products too, says chief executive José Marcos Ramírez Miguel. “Currently, less than 4% of our transactions are carried in branches,” he reports. 

In April this year the bank launched Cuenta Enlace Digital, a fully digital current account, which was particularly useful during Mexico’s lockdown and in its first month surpassed the number of all new accounts opened across all of the bank’s branches. The new product adds to Banorte’s existing digital offering, which, as of the end of 2019, included a new function on Banorte Mobile, the bank’s app, that allows customers to apply for credit cards without the need to sign any paper documents.

Part of its digital strategy is also Banorte’s joint venture with Rappi, a Latin American home-delivery service that works with restaurants, supermarkets and stores. Through the joint venture, created earlier in 2020, Banorte will offer digital financial services to Rappi’s customers with the aim to reach younger customers.

Of note is also Banorte’s focus on sustainability and its commitment to the Principles of Responsible Banking of the UN Environment Programme. Earlier this year, it signed a contract with energy provider Thermion so that 70% of the energy consumed by the banking group will come from wind-generated power by the first quarter of 2021.


Banco de la Producción 

Nicaragua is a tough market. Social and political unrest contributed to plunge the Central American economy into a recession that is widening from a 3.9% contraction in gross domestic product in 2018 to an expected drop of 5.9% this year, according to the World Bank. Between April 2018 and August 2019, deposits in the Nicaraguan financial system decreased by 34.5%. And just when things were beginning to improve, Covid-19 hit followed by Hurricane Eta.

Under these circumstances, finding a way back to growth may feel like a hopeless task to many Nicaraguan businesses. But it is reassuring to see Banco de la Producción (Banpro) so intent on working with companies to help them find sustainable business models, financing not only projects that improve productivity and efficiency but also practices that will help clients competitive and which consider social and environmental risks as well. The bank is particularly focusing on sectors more vulnerable to the crisis, to evaluate its internal exposure too.

The development of a new assessment system to evaluate those risks is part of Banpro’s commitment to sustainability, which the bank formalised by signing up to the Principles of Responsible Banking of the UN Environment Programme in September 2019. 

“Covid-19 has significantly disrupted the banking industry as we know it,” says Banpro’s general manager Juan Carlos Arguello. “It has challenged the bank’s continuity plans but has also brought out the best in all of us. We, as well as our customers, have had to adapt to a fast-changing environment that has put pressure on results. We have done this by keeping in close contact with our customers and have been able to support them with innovative financial solutions.”  



While sustainability is beginning to pepper banks’ policies across Latin America, its practical implementation is not always immediate or straightforward, particularly when it comes to social factors. 

Banistmo is a rare and important exception. In 2019, with the assistance of IDB Invest, the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank, it issued the first social bond in the region that promotes female entrepreneurship. With a relatively modest size of $50m, and a five-year tenure, the importance of this gender bond cannot be understated in a region with a stubborn gender gap in terms of economic participation, education, health and political empowerment, according to the World Economic Forum; and in a country, Panama, where 2018 data pointed to a deteriorating trend. 

Banistmo CEO Aimeé Sentmat de Grimaldo says she wants to centre the bank’s growth around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, to support not only women but also greater parts of Panama’s population that have struggled to access financial services. To do this, she says, it is essential to create new tools and platforms to reach more customers and serve them better, and to help accelerate the digitisation of the whole banking sector. An example is ‘Own Banking Correspondent’, a new service that allows customers to complete transactions online without the need to visit a branch, and one developed entirely within the bank, by its technical team, which Banistmo says has helped modernise the whole organisation and its culture. 

Another example is Banistmo’s digital bank, Nequi, which partnered with PayPal to help smooth transfers from Panamanians working abroad who are sending funds back home.

Covid-19 and its economic implications have reinforced the need for a wider use of digital services, says Ms Sentmat de Grimaldo. The pandemic has also highlighted the role that banks can play in society. 

“This crisis has put intense pressure on our economy,” she says. “It represents an opportunity for the banking sector to participate in the economic recovery by generating new credit, improving our customers’ experience and looking forward to a bolder [offering of banking services].”


Sudameris Bank 

When Covid-19 hit Paraguay, Sudameris Bank was ready to offer a new online banking platform to customers, helping them to keep safe, at home, while accessing banking services. This was the result of a project that took three years to complete and which relied not only on a specialised third party but also on the bank’s own internal IT division. The bank’s direct technical involvement means that it will be able to maintain and modify the system in the future, improving the overall service.

As a result, early in 2020 Sudameris could offer a mobile banking app to retail customers; a mobile wallet, which will also have the important added benefit of boosting financial inclusion; and a new digital platform for desktop users. The bank is also working on a corporate online banking platform that business clients will be able to use for cash management, salary payments and account reconciliations, among other activities.

Before that, in 2019, Sudameris also launched a leasing product running on a mobile app, the first of its kind in Paraguay, says the bank. In partnership with nine of the largest automotive dealerships in the country, Sudameris is now able to offer up to five-year financing options on cars, agricultural equipment or heavy road construction machines and to quote leasing options on any vehicle in real time through the app.

“Covid only reinforced the need to expand our online offering to clients,” says vice-chairman Sebastien Lahaie. “This trend was already part of our long-term strategy, but it has now been embedded as the key pillar of development for the bank.”

The bank will also base its growth on securing longer-term finance for its clients. “Our future plans include among other elements, the strengthening of our project finance and structured finance capabilities to continue to assist the growing needs of Paraguay for long-term development finance,” he adds.



Peru’s response to Covid-19 was one of the world’s most decisive, with an early and protracted lockdown. Yet the virus continued to spread fast among a population that has high numbers of informal employment. Bringing digital services, including financial services, to greater numbers of Peruvians is more than ever important – for the government as well as for the country’s banks.

Interbank shows interesting examples of how technology can be used to reach individuals and small businesses not yet served by banking services, as well as how to better serve existing ones. Thanks to new sources of data and new tools, like machine learning and artificial intelligence, Interbank has improved the quality and the speed of its risk assessment models. 

This helped deal with the surge in volume in digital activity during the crisis. As of the end of May 2020, three quarters of Interbank’s retail customers had used the lender’s digital channels; more than half of all retail customers did not visit a physical branch during this period. There was an increase in the number of digital savings account, which at the end of May were seven times the number registered only two months earlier. Similarly, the number of digital business accounts doubled over the same period. 

Again in May, Interbank added a new functionality to its digital payments service, Tunki, which it had only developed in 2019. The addition allowed families to receive the government’s emergency funds directly into their digital wallet, regardless of whether they were Interbank customers or not. Interbank notes that it was the only private bank delivering the government’s financial aid without the need of any physical interaction, entirely digitally. The bank is set to enrich further its online and mobile solutions, also thanks to its innovation lab, LaBentana, which focuses on the development and testing of new ideas.

Puerto Rico

Banco Popular de Puerto Rico 

Banco Popular de Puerto Rico has been in expansion mode for the past couple of years. In 2018 it bought Wells Fargo’s local auto finance business, which it fully integrated into its operations in 2019, and which gave Banco Popular about $1.6bn in retail auto loans and $341m in auto-related commercial loans. 

The auto loan business has been a source of growth for the bank. In 2019, Popular also bought a $74m local credit card portfolio and acquired the rights to issue credit cards under the Jet Blue loyalty programme on the island.

The benefits accrued by using airline co-branded credit cards will hopefully be useful once travel resumes its normal pace. Meanwhile, as the Covid-19 emergency persists, Banco Popular continues to support customers. It acted decisively at the onset of the crisis, originating 69% of emergency loans in Puerto Rico. Under the US Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which extends to Puerto Rico, the bank secured approval for more than 28,000 loans for small and medium-sized businesses for a total value of more than $1.4bn. These include $215m for clients in the mainland US and $29m for clients in the US Virgin Islands; $1.2bn were disbursed locally, in Puerto Rico. 

Nearly three quarters of loans had individual values of less than $25,000, exemplifying the small size – and vulnerability – of businesses that Banco Popular could help. The bank also secured more than $300,000 in grants for local non-profits working with small businesses from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, a bank that supports community lenders.

The use of digital banking channels also helped local businesses and Puerto Ricans in general. Between April and May this year, sign-ups to Banco Popular’s app, Mi Banco, grew by 40% compared to the same period in 2019 – an increase that the bank usually sees over a 12 month period. 

Saint Lucia

1st National Bank of St Lucia 

1st National Bank of St Lucia led a consortium that bought Royal Bank of Canada’s operations in the eastern Caribbean in a deal, agreed at the end of 2019, that gives the five local banks that make up the consortium the chance to play a more active role in the development of their respective economies – and 1st National, in particular, a more prominent role within the region.

1st National’s leadership in the local market was proven during the Covid-19 pandemic too. The bank proudly points out that while its peers were making changes to their ATM and digital banking fees, its customers could already use those services free-of-charge. 

Heavily dependent on tourism, St Lucia’s economy is set to contract by 16.9% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. The recession has been painful for the local population, and 1st National has tried to soften the blow. The bank offered a six-month suspension of loan repayments, including mortgages, and the automatic removal of late-repayment fees on both loans and credit cards for the same period of time. It also increased credit card limits and overdraft limits of current accounts. It offered working capital financing to clients, as well as debt restructuring to businesses.

1st National has also invested in technology and in 2019 updated its mobile app, MoBanking. It added features such as fingerprint logins and alerts notifying customers of any transactions. Users are also able to transfer funds, report lost or stolen cards and access account and cheque information. It also added a feature to strengthen the security of online purchases and confidence in online retailers, further promoting the use of e-commerce and digital payments in the country.

Trinidad and Tobago

Scotiabank Trinidad and Tobago 

As for many of its peers, Scotiabank Trinidad and Tobago’s most immediate concern this year has been the safety of customers and staff. Senior vice president and managing director, Stephen Bagnarol, is proud of the bank’s ability to continue operations through its digital channels. He feels the bank is in a privileged position as it has been able to tap into the group’s resources to serve Trinidadians’ needs.

“We have been able to leverage Scotiabank’s global $10.7bn investment in technology over the past five years to provide customers with safe and secure enhancements and products that enable faster, smarter banking,” he says.

The bank added security features to its mobile app and redeployed nearly a third of branch staff to its Digital Support Unit to assist customers using the online and mobile banking channels, ensuring that they could remain home and keep safe. For customers new to these services, it created tutorials on how to complete transactions online – a simple solution that helped increase adoption and use of digital services. 

But even before the pandemic hit, Scotiabank’s focus on technology was evident. It improved its ATM network with the introduction of ‘intelligent deposit machines’, which rely on  more advanced technology than traditional ATMs and offer greater functionality. There are 63 such machines across the country and Scotiabank says their use has been increasingly popular. It also notes that it is the only bank that offers this type of ATM locally.

Looking to the future, Mr Bagnarol is hopeful about Trinidad and Tobago’s prospects, pointing to the resilience of the local economy and of the banks’ customers. “Most of our over 72,000 customers who received payment deferrals [because of the crisis] are no longer in need of this assistance,” he says. 

But customers’ expectations and needs are also changing, moving towards a greater demand for digital services and away from the physical branch – a trend that has naturally accelerated during the pandemic and which Scotiabank intends to continue to support.


Banco de la República O Uruguay 

It is rare to find a market so heavily dominated by one bank, and where the dominant player meets the need of the various parts of its market so competently. Banco de la República O Uruguay is the country’s public sector bank and has also nearly a third of the private sector credit market.

It works with large corporate clients to finance infrastructure and other large projects. But it is also committed to smaller businesses. In 2019, Banco República improved its services to microentrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises through a guarantee system to expedite access to financing for the agricultural sector. It also promoted the use of different payments methods available to customers so that they could choose the method best suiting their circumstances or a particular transaction; and added new payments choices to its payment platform, Multipagos.

Also in 2019, Banco República refined its digital strategy to improve efficiency and customer experience, which helped support the greater use of its digital channels: 92 million transactions in 2019 compared with 86 million the previous year. In partnership with Antel, the national telecommunication company, Banco República launched a mobile wallet, which it is already planning to expand by including other Uruguayan banks in the project.

Arguably, given its dominant position, Banco República has a greater responsibility to support the Uruguayan economy during Covid-19 than its peers. It promptly offered a suspension of loan repayments and allowed for all applications to be put through its digital platform, eBROU. In some cases, repayments were postponed automatically without the need for a request from clients. Banco República’s solid capital base and high liquidity ratio are further evidence of its ability to support Uruguayans during this time of crisis. 


Bank of America 

Dealing with the implications of the coronavirus pandemic on corporate and retail clients has been a challenging task for all banks. For a lender the size of Bank of America (BofA), it has an even larger responsibility to respond promptly and effectively to clients’ urgent and mounting queries. The bank’s regular and substantial investment in technology helped ensure this was possible. 

One example is the update of the bank’s artificial intelligence-based chatbot, Erica, to handle finance-related questions and concerns about Covid-19 and help clients explore relief options. It may seem a small improvement but one that, in such uncertain circumstances, sought to offer immediate support to customers. 

Further, as part of the government’s Paycheque Protection Programme, BofA provided more than $25bn in loans to over 334,000 small businesses. And it pledged $250m to boost the capital of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which lends to local communities. It also supported local communities directly by committing $100m to address food insecurity, medical response efforts and to support vulnerable people; plus, it launched a $1bn, four-year initiative to help drive racial equality and economic opportunity in communities of colour. 

“The past year has tested us in many ways, and I’m proud to say that we have responded extraordinarily well – staying focused on our purpose and our values so we could deliver for our teammates, customers, communities and shareholders. This award would not be possible without the efforts of my teammates and I’m honoured to accept it on their behalf,” says Brian Moynihan, chairman and chief executive of BofA. 

“Our goal is to build on our competitive advantages by managing risk and expenses well while continuing to invest in new capabilities, such as digital. This will allow us to continue to support clients and help us grow the company.”


Mercantil Banco Universal 

Covid-19 has added pressure on Venezuela’s long-suffering economy, where the annual real gross domestic product growth dipped to -35% in 2019 and is set to be -25% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The pandemic has further contracted economic activity and, therefore, reduced banks’ business volumes. “We have improved our offer of digital banking services and taken all necessary actions to support customers’ operations,” says Mercantil’s chief executive Nelson Pinto Alves. “This has allowed us to improve our market share in deposits and credits.” 

Decreasing levels of liquidity in the banking sector forced Mercantil to focus on fee-generating sources of income. This led to the growth of digital payments, which, says Mr Pinto Alves, now represent nearly all transactions running through the bank channels. Mercantil pushed ahead with its open banking strategy too, which now includes granting access to the proprietary software running debit card payments in addition to the one for credit cards, which it released in 2018. 

Mr Pinto Alves sees Mercantil as a “pioneer” in open banking in the country. The bank is also proud of its mobile app’s new biometric authentication, which has helped improve the user experience. In addition, Mercantil has created a new authentication system for business clients, through a ‘soft token’, which has also simplified the bank’s internal processes. Another example of leadership in innovation is Tpago, a peer-to-peer payment platform that the bank improved in 2019 by adding a person-to-commerce functionality. And by the end of 2019, Tpago also began serving businesses, allowing them to receive online instant payments. By this June, says Mercantil, nearly 16,000 businesses and merchants signed up to Tpago’s commerce channel and more than 448,000 transactions ran through it.

Payments will continue to be a focus of the bank in the future. Mr Pinto Alves says that Mercantil wants to create “new [user-]friendly products, build closer relationships with customers to improve market share and maintain the quality of our loan portfolio”. He adds that it will also be important to continue improving efficiency in an environment of high inflation and dollarisation of the economy.  


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