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BANKING

Regional banks battle to fill Central America vacuum

Colombian banks are moving into Central America as international banks depart. Regulation could drive further consolidation. The locals will need strength to survive – and thrive.

RODRIGO ZAMORA-600

Rodrigo Zamora, head of corporate banking at Lafise in Nicaragua


Banking in Central America is becoming a regional affair. The exit of Citi and HSBC has opened the door for the Colombian banks, which required little invitation to enter enthusiastically. 

Locals report the Colombians are being more aggressive in engaging with the domestic competition than the internationals that preceded them. This, in turn, is pressurizing local franchises in the region – and the leading banks in the key Central American jurisdictions – to react.

With analysts predicting further consolidation to come – this time from below as money laundering regulations make small banks’ business models untenable – the search for scale and strength from improved profitability is on in earnest.

Colombian businesses have long viewed Central America as their backyard but it wasn’t until 2010, when GE sold the BAC-Credomatic franchise it had bought in stages – with the first 49.9% being acquired in 2005 from the Carlos Pella family – that the financial service industry began to acquire Central American banks.