The sector has mostly focused its activities on Bogotá and a few other cities, a trend that started to change some four or five years ago. Today around 97% of Colombia's towns have, at least, minimum banking activity, and banking penetration rates have increased up to 65% of the adult population. In this regard, we are on the right track to improving the sector's performance, although I believe there are still many things to be done. The government of Colombia has implemented several strategies that have positively contributed to increase banking penetration and activity rates across the country. For example, it has authorized the establishment of non-banking correspondents, and today there are as many as 26,000. This has helped to bring banking activities to more than 350 Colombian towns that before did not have any kind of banking activity.
María Mercedes Cuéllar López
President, Asociación Nacional de Instituciones Financieras
In terms of strengths, the economy has good organization and capitalization of the financial sector. The horrors of the mortgage crisis are behind us. Also, the professionalism of the Ministry of Finance and the Banco de la República has permitted us to cope with huge turbulence abroad, so we do not foresee risks of fiscal and financial tension. In terms of weaknesses, security and drug trafficking threats are still the big factors. Colombia's Achilles' heel is the shortage of infrastructure to deal with those threats. If Colombia doesn't take advantage of this recent boom in commodity exports like coal, oil, and gold, and make investments to improve security and fight drug trafficking, then it will unfortunately not be able to jump into the 6% growth range. Measured in medium-term growth averages, Colombia has grown about 4.4% on average every five years. If you look at it by decades, Colombia has averaged an annual growth rate of between 3.8% and 4.5%. However, the aim of growing at a 6% annual basis still eludes us.
María Mercedes Gómez R.
Bancamía was established four years ago, and over this time we have achieved a greater affinity in attending the services of the population with lower incomes. The company has grown from working in nine departments to having operations in 32 of the country's departments; in other words, we have reached around 72% of Colombia's municipalities. In addition, we are reaching the poorest communities in the country; 62% of the poor population lives in the countryside and they are very much dependent on the agriculture sector. Bancamía is a social institution committed to contributing to the economic and social development of Colombians. For example, 21% of our customer portfolio is linked to the countryside and the agriculture sector. Also, we have formalized and raised awareness of the micro-financing sector in Colombia. Bancamía was the first financial institution specialized in micro financing in the country and today, 99% of our clients are micro enterprises.
Francisco Estupiñán Heredia
President, Banco Agrario de Colombia
We need to work on achieving greater penetration in the sector; currently the penetration rate stands at 65% in general. However, if we look closer at the agriculture sector in particular, we will see that only 20% of current agriculture GDP (6%) uses financing tools from the banking sector, whereas around 50% of the population is dependent on the agriculture sector. In regards to this, the Ministry of Agriculture is implementing several projects to achieve a greater level of financial inclusion in the agriculture sector, and the government is also doing something at the social level nationwide to overcome poverty levels and further increase the depth of the finance sector. In addition, our bank has the responsibility to pay a social subsidy to as many as 1.7 million families in the country. It is something similar to what Brazil did a few years ago.