Panama Best Bank: Banistmo
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Central America’s biggest private banking group, Banistmo, has proved itself to be an innovative, aggressive bank with almost $9 billion in assets – double the amount in 2003 – developing its business through a combination of greenfield projects and acquisitions. In February, Banistmo bought 54% of El Salvador’s third-largest banking group, Inversiones Financieras Bancosal, for $131 million, strengthening its position in regional investment banking, remittances and credit cards. Banistmo, which has played down rumours that HSBC is interested in taking it over, says it aims to expand in Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador, although it adds that its recent intense acquisition activity is likely to slow as consolidation reduces the variety of targets on offer. Banistmo, which has the most extensive private branch network in Panama, notched up deposits of $4.3 billion in 2005, a 10% increase on 2004, and has benefited from Panama’s removal from an international money-laundering blacklist.