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BANKING

Time for La Reconquista. (Spanish bankers and foreign competition)

TIME FOR LA RECONQUISTA

Spanish bankers don't know whether to bless or damn their foreign counterparts in Madrid. On the one hand the foreign banks are seen as saviours. They bought up many ailing Spanish banks during the banking crisis which afflicted more than half the commercial banking system four years ago. And they are praised for the high level of service they've brought to the country. "Technically the presence of the foreign banks has been very positive. We ar doing things now perhaps we wouldn't have done before," said Emilio de Ibarra, chief executive of Banco de Bilbao.

But the success this expertise has gained for the foreigners has caused resentment among Spanish bankers. The 37 foreign banks in Spain have captured over 15% of the loan market since 1978, when they were first allowed into the country in large numbers. They are an aggressive presence in the domestic capital market. "I think what annoys us most is that they've achieved all this with our money," complained Jorge Hay, head of research and a member of the management committee at Banco Hispano Americano.

Many Spanish bankers are determined to recover the lost ground.

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