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Costa Rica bank mergers: Safety in numbers

A three-way merger of Costa Rica’s largest state-owned banks to help deal with desperate funding shortages and reduce their operating expenses is not without its drawbacks. Chloe Hayward reports from San José.

NO PART OF the world has escaped the present financial crisis – not even Costa Rica, the tiny central American nation that borders Nicaragua and Panama. As in many other countries, its banks went on a lending spree in the past couple of years. However, liquidity is now tight and banks are under pressure to refinance. Their growth is likely to slow. For the big three state-owned banks, an answer to their problems could be close at hand: a mega-merger.

Since the deregulation of Costa Rica’s banking industry in 1996, the state-owned banks’ market share of total assets has fallen to 55% from 99.5%. A merger of the three main ones – Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (BNCR), Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) and BanCredito – would enable them to claw back market share, while improving profits and making more room for growth.

"A merger would increase the overall tier-1 capital and increase profitability," says William Hayden, chief executive of Banco Nacional. "It would also result in huge economies of scale, a decrease in expenses overall and an end to the duplication of operations between the three banks. A merged bank would grow faster."

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