Paraguay plays safe
The country’s biggest banks have kept profits up by keeping banking simple and benefiting from enviable net interest margins. But are they too conservative for their own – and the economy’s – good?
The Sudameris Bank boardroom in downtown Asunción is thick with smoke as Conor McEnroy stubs out his third cigarette into a giant glass ashtray barely 15 minutes into what turns out to be a three-hour conversation about Paraguay’s financial system and how the 56-year-old Irishman wound up owning what is now the country’s fifth-largest bank by lending.
“If you hang around broken banks for long enough, eventually you will be offered one,” he deadpans.
That is what happened in 2003 when McEnroy was running ABN Amro’s Latin America M&A franchise in New York, which he had set up to focus on consulting and fixing distressed banks in the region.
“I was the guy who would go in through the back door or through the basement, and always be working in the shadows, because if the regulators saw me in there they knew what that meant,” he says.
McEnroy is a touch more colourful than the average banker, recounting his story while sipping tea from a Charlotte Bronte mug in a boardroom that he has decorated with more than a dozen Kaufman prints of Marilyn Monroe.