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Cajas build on their good fortune

Spain's savings banks have built a solid market share and reputation. And the new finance law looks set to strengthen their position yet further.

BANKS DO NOT often give a hearty welcome to government legislation aimed at regulating the financial services sector. Spain's new finance law, which is expected to be approved by parliament after the summer recess, is an exception. It has been enthusiastically embraced by the 46 cajas de ahorros - the savings banks that account for half the country's banking system. As far as the cajas are concerned, the law hands them their cake with a clear mandate to eat it as well.

The cajas have been operating since the mid-19th century and for most of that time were viewed as stodgy, almost clerical institutions that were not taken seriously by the commercial banks. That is, not until 1977 when the government introduced legislation that allowed these private foundations to offer their predominantly working-class customers the same products and services as the banks.

Quality services "The common perception that the cajas, being quasi-public institutions, should be inefficient, unprofitable and poorly managed is not accurate at all," says Boris Molina, an analyst at Santander Central Hispano Investment. "Delivering steady and reliable growth in their social dividends, as well as ensuring the quality of the services they provide, are key objectives for the cajas.

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