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Latin America’s banking regulatory ground is shifting

Bank CEOs do not like it, but the regulators are fostering competition.

Photo: iStock

Large banks in Latin America enjoy many benefits. Some, such as lower funding costs, are a natural result of their success. Others have tilted the playing field in their favour.

Their natural competitive advantages have been reinforced by regulations and market structure.

Regulators across the region are finally taking a hard look at some of these built-in privileges. Interestingly, this is happening just as a wave of digital competition seems to be reducing their impact.

Instead of competitors struggling to break through and having to lobbying regulators to reduce the large banks’ moats, they have simply gone the fintech route instead.

And these changes are often significant. In Mexico, antitrust agency COFECE has ruled that Prosa – the payments company owned by a consortium of six banks, which includes some of Mexico’s largest card issuers – creates a barrier to entry.

The news comes as the banks have been losing share of the payments industry to fintechs, a trend that this ruling will only accelerate.

Brazil complaints

The Brazilian banks are also feeling the regulatory ground shifting under their feet.

At the end of May, Brazil’s central bank issued a report on the potential for a digitized version of the real, which could disintermediate much of the banking system.

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