BANKING ON BRAND AWARENESS

Panama 2018 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Néstor Blanco, General Manager of Scotiabank, on competition in a small market, digitalized banking services, and the journey from a corporate commercial bank to a universal one.

Néstor Blanco
BIOGRAPHY
Nestor Blanco is the General Manager of Scotiabank in Panama. He began his career at Scotiabank in 2004, where he served as director of mergers and acquisitions for international banking in Toronto. In 2010, he became vice president for Latin America, and later in 2012, he served as vice president of private international banking. He holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Venezuela and a master's degree in business administration from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia in the US.

How was 2017 for Scotiabank?

2017 was a great year; it was part of our integration year which started from 2016, during which we recorded double-digit growth. We are a bank with a long-term focus, and this aligns with our operations in Panama because we believe in the country and the opportunities it has on offer. Historically, we have been a corporate commercial bank, which is how we started in 1974. We have undergone multiple changes over the years and have now become a fully universal bank with a complete retail offer. We had an excellent 2017 in retail, particularly in basic mortgages and auto products, and the composition of our balance sheet is changing; it was 70% corporate commercial and 30% retail 10 years ago, it is now more balanced around 55/45, and we are growing nicely in retail ahead of some competitors. Moving forward we are planning to improve that ratio even further. In 2017, credit cards were a major part of the story; we had a full year to manage the credit card portfolio we acquired from Citibank, and we have had great success doing that.

Since June 4, Scotiabank Panama and Scotiabank Transformandose have maintained a single operation in the country. What are the main highlights of the process?

It has been a success, and we are pleased with the results. It was a huge task system wise, and as a result, we are now one bank on a new technology platform. We now operate under the Scotiabank brand with a commitment to become our customer's primary bank by providing practical advice and relevant solutions. We have 21 branches for a country the size of Panama; therefore, we are extremely pleased with this coverage. In total, we have 130,000 clients for the new platform.

Can you tell us about your corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives?

CSR is an integral part of how Scotiabank conducts business across every country where it has presence. We are part of a community and try to be there for our clients while being responsive to the local needs to make a positive and meaningful difference. We are a global bank but are here to serve Panamanians.

What is your strategy to remain competitive in such a competitive market?

We are competitive by nature and through what we have done and achieved from a retail perspective. We believe in Panama, a country that has immense growth potential, and as a large financial center, there are opportunities for consolidation in the system. We will carefully look at opportunities as they come. Our biggest competitive advantage is that people recognize our global brand, and therefore, they want to be a part of it. Our natural cost of funds, thus, tends to be cheaper just because we are who we are: an extremely solid bank, a reputation that we have established and proven throughout the years. Our aim is to continue efforts to spread the brand more than it has been spread in the past. This is clear by our recent acquisition, which is a combination of our brand investing and installing digital platforms in the market through an aggressive strategy. We are truly investing as a bank to change to a digital perspective, and we expect people to use digital channels to access our products as opposed to queuing up in branches. We are investing money in this initiative across our global operations, and we are committed to further invest in our digitalization process.

What are your goals and priorities for 2018?

Now that we are integrated with more products and a stronger brand, we will focus on increasing the number of primary customers. We want more clients who consider Scotiabank as their sole bank of choice, to the point that the first thing they see in their wallet is a Scotiabank card. The key to achieve that is through a strong investment strategy, as well as a strategy for digital platforms. That is our biggest goal not just for 2018 but all the way to 2020.