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COLOMBIA - Finance

Luis Carlos Sarmiento Gutiérrez

President, Grupo Aval

Bio

Luis Carlos Sarmiento Gutiérrez has served as President of Grupo Aval since 2000. He was previously president of Cocelco S.A., executive vice president at First Bank of the Americas in New York, and analyst and financial manager at Procter & Gamble’s corporate headquarters. He has been the chairman of the board of Banco de Bogotá since 2004 and Corficolombiana since 2006. He holds a bachelor of science degree, magna cum laude, in civil engineering from the University of Miami and an MBA with a concentration in finance from the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

"Our priority has been, and will continue to be, to serve as a source of growth and financial strength for companies around the country."

Luis Carlos Sarmiento Gutiérrez, President of Grupo Aval, talks to TBY about the firm’s work to improve its offerings of digital products, including its digital wallet and the ecosystems it has created focusing on mobility and housing.

What recent developments have marked Grupo Aval’s performance as one of the most successful financial institutions in the country?

Throughout the last 25 years, we have followed a strategy supported by various pillars, of which the most important is the pillar of sustainability. Our principal strengths rest on the diversification of our investments, the adequate management of risk, and the optimization of our cost structure via synergies and innovation. We diversify both in the industries as well as in the segments that we target. This diversification has allowed us to better navigate the ever-present economic cycles. Additionally, although all our banks compete across the board, they tend to specialize in specific market niches that, when combined, give us relevance in all the financial segments and products in our target markets. Of course, our investments in Corficolombiana, an investment/merchant bank, and Porvenir, a pension fund manager, complement our diversification strategy well. We have consistently proven, through better quality loan portfolios, that our credit risk policies are more conservative than those of the financial sector on average. Regarding operational efficiency, we have been able to design and implement strategies that allow us to realize multi-subsidiary savings based on one-for-all technological developments and, more recently, in the migration to cloud-based technology. This is accompanied by corporate purchasing and contracting programs. Finally, we have worked hard on innovation through digitalization, especially over the last decade. We have also dedicated ample talent and resources to try to create a better customer journey as we better understand our clientele using tools such as advanced analytics.

How is Grupo Aval navigating greater financial inclusion in the country, and what role does digitalization play?

We were pioneers in the digitalization of legacy credit and deposit products in Colombia and Central America. Digital sales of legacy products proved to be key during the pandemic and remain a sales channel that increases exponentially every year. A few months ago, we decided to go all-out to massify our digital wallet, dale!, which has gained traction and is up to more than 1 million clients. Through dale!, we have become active participants in the government’s effort to disperse subsidies to families in need. Additionally, dale! has put its technology at the service of others and has consequently become a leader as a provider of banking as a service (BaaS). Complementing our wallet, we have launched payment portals and payments via QR open loops to allow clients and non-clients to have access to a vast array of payments options. In addition to dale!, Grupo Aval has been leading the construction of the first mobility and housing ecosystems in the country. Carroya, the mobility ecosystem with 2.8 million unique monthly active users, is digitalizing high frequency transactions that have traditionally been paid in cash: toll, parking lot, car washes, and car servicing payments. As for Metrocuadrado, the housing ecosystem with 3.4 million unique monthly active users, we are encouraging Colombian citizens to engage in digital transactions by purchasing real estate classifieds through our digital channels. Last but not least, Grupo Aval’s banks and pension fund manager are determined to bring basic financial education to hard-to-reach regions and population segments. These programs have reached an estimated more than 7 million people in approximately 800 cities around the country.

Which sectors are best positioned to generate growth for the Colombian economy, and how is Grupo Aval adapting its offer to them?

Our priority has been, and will continue to be, to serve as a source of growth and financial strength for companies around the country. We do so through a vast array of products and services offered through our banks, including our investment/merchant bank, our asset managers, and our pension fund manager. We diversify via the industries in which we participate and manage risk to keep a balanced portfolio. A similar approach is used to build our consumer loan portfolios. We serve all commercial segments including the largest corporations and the smaller SMEs.

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