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Panama 2014 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Javier Gallardo, General Manager of UniBank, on the bank's rapid rise in the local financial market and its potential acquisition of a brokerage house.

What have UniBank's major milestones been since its creation three years ago?

In our three years of operation, UniBank has exceeded $400 million in assets, achieved an excellent position in the Panamanian market, and become well-known in corporate, consumer, and private banking. We have increased our share of the sector thanks to healthy, sustainable growth. We are one of Panama's boutique banks, and our aim is to become the most important player in this segment. Moreover, UniBank has managed to achieve sound levels of liquidity, delinquency, and capital adequacy, which are significantly higher than the average levels in the sector.


What is the philosophy behind the creation of the bank?

Our strategy is not based on extensively growing our branches. Instead, we use a customer-targeted strategy, where we work to find out which products our customers need, and make those products available in a quick and competitive way. We intend to keep being particularly active in the business of corporate and private banking. Our philosophy is to support our customers in adding value to, and growing their businesses, and thereby obtain and keep their trust. As part of Panama's financial system, UniBank has to make equity flows generate value for our customers, and continue to offer financial solutions that contribute to that growth. Since our inception, we have taken a responsible role regarding the poorest communities in our country and we have promoted social development as part of our strategy and management style.

Given that 86% of UniBank's business is located in Panama City, and 14% in Colón, how are you promoting your bank's international dimensions?

We live in a globalized world, and to develop a fully integrated business, it is necessary for UniBank to diversify its markets and risks, and take up business opportunities where a competitive advantage exists for the company. The bank has executives with extensive experience in international business. Further, as part of our strategic plan, we are looking into opening representation offices in order to have a presence in some emerging countries. We are currently evaluating different options in terms of countries based on their economic performance, growth opportunities, political and monetary stability, and banking regulations.

How would you describe your financial performance in 2013 and your expectations for 2014?

In 2013, we became the Panamanian bank with the largest percentage growth in terms of assets, deposits, and results, and we were ranked second in terms of loans. As at year-end 2013, UniBank had $393.5 million in assets, which compared to 2012 represents an increase of 30%, and a net income of $1.08 million. We are particularly pleased with our regulatory liquidity levels of 61%, and our capital adequacy ratio (CAR) of 20.82%. In fact, 2013 was an exceptional year in terms of percentage growth in income and turnover, way above the average for other financial entities. Within our 2014 strategic plan, important highlights include the acquisition of 50% of a brokerage business, the issuance of commercial marketable securities for $50 million, which have been successfully placed at six months and one year, and also the future opening of a representative office.

What is your evaluation of the conclusions of the latest OECD review on Panama?

We still have to improve some aspects of our sector, mainly related to the rapid implementation of the detention or removal of bearer shares. Apart from that, the Panamanian banking sector has some challenges to face in the future. The main one is to maintain its competitiveness, and it needs to constantly innovate, as well. Panama's banking sector also has to develop a more approachable and culturally integrated approach to its customers, as there is a marked difference here compared to our international banking counterparts. Of course, we have to adapt and prepare for the new Basel III regulations, as well as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) ones, and maintain high standards in our compliance policies and customer knowledge, generally.

© The Business Year - April 2015