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Santander plays digital catch-up

The bank has lagged behind its retail-focused competitors in Europe and Latin America. That is changing, senior management say. The Spanish group is pursuing new growth and diversification – from fintech investments to core-banking experiments and new online platforms.


With its executives’ bright red ties and its thoroughly mainstream marketing, Santander might never be the world’s coolest company. It has been through old-fashioned deal-making and astute management, rather than youthful invention, that the Spanish group has outshone its peers. 

However, senior insiders say Santander is quietly catching up and even surpassing mainstream banking competitors in technology, as it urgently confronts the digital challenge to the global retail banking industry.

A greater focus on technology, rather than daring acquisitions, is also one of the clearest ways in which Ana Botín is making her mark on the group since taking over as executive chairman in 2014. Among her most senior fellow executives there is a new recognition that the main internet-led industry shift is central to retail banking.

“For a retail bank like us, technology is completely reshaping the way we serve customers,” Santander’s CEO José Antonio Álvarez tells Euromoney. “Traditionally the number of branches was a proxy for market share; it had a very high correlation. Now, for the first time, this is changing in a significant way.”

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