RESERVES OF STRENGTH

Mexico 2015 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Enrique Vilatela Riba, Director General of Investa Bank, on NAFTA, the use of technology, and predictions for the coming year.

Enrique Vilatela Riba
BIOGRAPHY
Enrique Vilatela Riba obtained his MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, having previously received a degree in actuarial science from the Universidad Anahuac in Mexico City in 1976. Until 2000, he pursued his professional career in the financial public sector, starting in Nacional Financiera (NAFIN) and then moving on to a more senior position in Foreign Trade Bank of Mexico and the Ministry of Finance. He has served as Director General of Bancomext, and has extensive involvement in consultancy and support organizations for Mexican businesses, alternative energy firms, and preservation initiatives for the country’s Natural Protected Areas.

You were part of the team that negotiated NAFTA. What is the next step that should be taken to make the most out of the FTAs to which Mexico is a signatory?

From my personal point of view we have not been able to fully take advantage of the different free trade agreements, especially NAFTA. We have not been able to get the necessary and potential economic growth that Mexico deserves. This is largely because of the division between large enterprises that participate in foreign trade, and SMEs that lack access to international markets. When we signed NAFTA, our vision was one of distributive benefits across the production chain; SMEs were a key component of this vision for our exports. Yet we have failed to ensure that smaller stakeholders in the economy benefit from our export drive.

Investa Bank is online-oriented. What advantages does technology bring for a bank like yours?

The advantage of technology today for a small bank like ours is that it allows us, without spending too much money and time, to get closer to the giants and to be able to provide a good service without the investment that these big firms have made over the past 50 or so years. We are taking advantage of technology and combing it with a professional team. We do not expect to, and do not aim to have local branches or offices nationwide. What we do expect to have is a full team of professionals that go directly to our potential customers, partner with our customers, who understand them, and are creative enough as to have the solutions tailor-made for them. We recently launched our electronic banking system. In July, we will present it to the public and expect it to be highly effective. We plan to be competitive in terms of service, and attractive in terms of both service and pricing.

How diversified is your portfolio?

Today we hold around $79.31 million, which is still insufficient. For a bank to be profitable, it needs more than $213 million, on average. We are already close to being profitable; so we do not have much further to go. In terms of sectors it is very diversified. The number one sector, which is still the financial sector, is at around 16% and the remainder is highly diversified. We are very much involved with the textile, automotive, and electronics industries, but not extensively with the real estate industry. We intend to have special programs, which we have already initiated, with certain potential industries that we perceive potential in, one being the automotive industry.

One of the goals of Mexican fiscal reforms was to enable smooth credit flow in Mexico. Have you seen that happening?

No, the government is pushing the banks and the market to implement new systems. However, these are not down to the reforms. Of course, when you are talking about credit, there are different types, and the one I am concerned with is credit to small and medium sized companies. Because the large companies have the credit and equity they require. To date, Mexico has developed numerous schemes regarding consumer credit and that is ongoing. Of course, a huge percentage of Mexicans do not have access to credit, or financial or banking services but that is another issue. One thing that we have to realize is that in this market most of the Mexican companies, if they go through a traditional credit analysis, are not credit worthy. We have to work with them in structuring on structuring themselves and their presentations.

What are your expectations for the year ahead?

2015 has been easier so far than 2014 since today we have a year of experience behind us. We have confirmed that we are on the right track and that we have a much stronger base in terms of systems and people than we had when we started last year. We do not have to look for customers because they seek us out themselves. We could be registering even faster growth had all our systems been in place today. With all systems in place our portfolio could surpass the $122 million (MXN 2 billion) mark.