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PANAMA - Finance

Aimeé Sentmat de Grimaldo

President, Banistmo

Bio

Aimeé Sentmat de Grimaldo has over 20 years of experience in the financial sector. She holds a degree in finance from Universidad Católica Santa María La Antigua and an MBA from Nova Southeastern University. Before assuming her current position, she worked at HSBC as chief of commercial banking.

"During the 2008 crisis, Panama was working with a sector that was growing fast in mortgages and constructions, though it made sure promoters had the appropriate amounts of equity in their projects. The system was able to self-regulate."
TBY talks to Aimeé Sentmat de Grimaldo, President of Banistmo, about the status of the financial sector in Panama, sustainable development, and SMEs in the country.
What potential does Panama have to become a financial hub in the region?

Our perspective on the financial sector is strong; it is the pillar of the Panamanian economy. During many market crises, the financial sector was a key factor in helping Panama overcome the situation with the least impact. The main reasons why Panama still has economic growth reach pre-pandemic levels are because of its strong financial system and the lack of a central bank resulting in excellent solvency levels, liquidity numbers above 50%, and a self-regulating history. During the 2008 crisis, Panama was working with a sector that was growing fast in mortgages and constructions, though it made sure promoters had the appropriate amounts of equity in their projects. The system was able to self-regulate. The financial sector has also been raising its competitiveness and professionalism. For Panama to remain as a logistic hub in the region, the financial sector needs to have high standards in regulations, such as transparency and no money laundering. This has been a differentiating factor for the finance sector in Panama. We see three main areas of opportunity in the financial sector. The first has to do with inclusion strengthening. Panama has a banking level of more than 90%, though this is measured through the amount of assets in the population and not in terms of access to an account or becoming a part of the banking sector. Second, we need to enable financial inclusion through third parties and not just banks. For example, fintechs and players are also simplifying consumers’ experience, and Panama should focus more on working together with banks and fintechs to help with the informality levels in the country, which are high. The third opportunity to keep growing has to do with helping SMEs to grow. Technology plays an important role in those three areas. We have a chance as a system to play a more active role by identifying challenges. Another challenge is banks’ ability to continue being relevant with clients in a universe of commerce. In Panama, there are some 50% of informal workers who need to be banked, which is why we need new business models with more effective players to classify these clients need and bring these people into the banking system, which guarantees transparency, reduces cash flow, and improves the quality of life of clients.

What has been Nequi’s impact on Panama?

Nequi has seen great acceptance in Panama. Our aim is to reach out to clients that might view traditional bank accounts as being more difficult. Traditional banking has simplified its onboarding processes and made it much easier to add new client. Nequi is a digital bank that allows us to reach that part of the population so that they can save money, use PayPal, own a car, and much more. Nequi had a steep learning curve, and today it has over 187,000 clients and is attracting more every day. The next step is to look for interoperability among these solutions. For example, we have worked with the national bank of Panama enabling people to take cash out at ATMs. We are certain the changes consumers have experienced will only continue to grow. Financial solutions are becoming increasingly invisible, though the opposite is happening with clients’ needs. We believe business models that allow interconnection are the solution and are what we are working toward.

How does Bancolombia contribute to Panama’s sustainable development?

As part of Bancolombia Group, we are committed and driven to monitor, identify and address the country´s needs, leveraging our utmost capabilities to ensure its fulfillment. We have a common goal: to promote sustainable development to help people’s well-being, which involves three pillars. First, to strengthen competitiveness in the Panama productivity sector, we are in talks with more SMEs. Some 80% of companies in Panama are SMEs and suffered greatly from the effects of the pandemic. Approximately 70% of the country’s economic growth is thanks to the private sector. If we do not strengthen competitiveness, it will be impossible to keep up with this growth or even surpass it. The second pillar is to have more sustainable communities and societies by ensuring decent housing for people, which improves their quality of life. We are the second-biggest bank in terms of mortgage credit, and we are working on having more solutions here. We also work with the energy transition. Panama is evaluating the hydric resource challenge. We have a credit card from Fundación Natura, and part of the resources of that card is used to preserve our water resources. This is a small project, and we want to make it bigger or have a bigger effect on the awareness of water resource in Panama. The last pillar is financial inclusion, and for this, we work with women on inclusion and equality. Since 2015 we have been working on a program called Impulsa that provides financial and non-financial solutions for women. In terms of financial solutions, we have a social gender bonus with the Inter-American Development Bank, while for non-financial solutions, we have mentoring and training programs. The challenge is to provide the same opportunities regardless of gender. These projects have had a great effect in the last few months, and we want to make them more competitive so that SMEs can last longer. This program’s main focus is inclusion and financial education for children and teenagers to make them more aware of the importance of the financial sector for Panama and why we should protect it. We have a mentoring program that is also part of a bigger overall training program for Panama to encourage more equality and higher quality of life.

What role should companies play a more active role in terms of quality?

Equality is an international responsibility. We want everyone to have the same opportunities. It is not just about gender; the more diverse and inclusive companies are, the more their businesses will thrive. This is not about social responsibility—it is about the economics aspect of it. Panama has moved forward in terms of gender identity matters, and the country has public-private support to better face these challenges. We already hold the gender equality badge and strongly recommend it. Such certifications provide more opportunities for selection processes, for example. Overall, Panama still has major gaps that we need to work on reducing.

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