Merger faces the strains of success
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Merger faces the strains of success

The continuing success of the bank now known as Santander Central Hispano in growing profit, forging alliances elsewhere in Europe and taking major market shares in Latin America is a tribute to the skills of the two banks that came together to form it. But behind this public face the marriage of two distinct banking cultures has not come easy.

Few banks know more about the agony and the ecstasy of merging two distinct business cultures than the recently renamed Santander Central Hispano. The Spanish bank's two years of existence as a merged entity have been dogged by a bitter power struggle. This culminated in the summer in blood on the carpet after a spectacular boardroom row led to the departure of one of the two men supposed to meld its two parts into a seamless whole (see page 30). Even what to call the merged entity remains a matter of contention: the abandonment of the BSCH (Banco Santander Central Hispano) branding leaves Santander as the key name and threatens to cast Central Hispano into oblivion.

For all that, what is now Spain's largest banking group has been thriving commercially. It's one of a new breed of Spanish banks, thrusting and global in focus, that have made their lumbering rivals in the UK, France and Germany look staid. Santander Central Hispano has not only taken audacious footholds in Latin America, it has also built cross-shareholdings in other banks across Europe that might one day put it at the head of a powerful grouping that can take full advantage of the single European currency.

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