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PANAMA - Finance

Raúl Alemán Zubieta

President, Banco General

Bio

Raúl Alemán Zubieta is Chairman of Banco General, S.A. He has a degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from Tulane University. He began his banking career as operations manager at Banco General in 1977. Since 1986, he has served as executive vice president & general manager of Banco General, a position he left in 2018 to become the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Banco General.

"The current perspective of Panama’s financial sector is positive."
With 68 years of operation, an international investment grade, and a strong values-based culture, Banco General has been able to differentiate itself to its 1.6 million clients.
What is your view on Panama’s potential to become a finance hub?

The current perspective of Panama’s financial sector is positive. It has proven to be resilient to global economic situations, and its regulatory system is strong. The country faced a challenging situation in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, though the regulator gave the system the necessary tools that allowed the banks to support corporate, commercial, and individual clients that were facing economic troubles. Banks were encouraged to work together with clients and offer different alternatives of restructuring and refinancing loans to give them the necessary time to recover. In our case, as we are a solid capitalized bank, Banco General took the decision in March 2020 to increase our reserves for loan losses to USD300 million in the event of uncertainties. Due to better-than-expected behavior of our loan portfolio in 2021 and 2022, we had to comply with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) norms and reverse some of those reserves. Today, the challenge is to grow in an economy that is growing at a slower pace than before the pandemic. Sectors such as construction and hotels are seeing excess inventory, and a slower pace of foreign direct investment are challenges that we need to face in the future. The resiliency of the banking sector, its regulatory framework, the use of the dollar as legal tender, and having a stable democracy will continue to foster Panama to maintain its status as the premier financial hub in the region. These advantages will be enhanced when we are hopefully certified as full complying country with Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (GAFILAT) requirements later in 2023.

What differentiates Banco General in a country with more than 60 banks?

We have been operating for 68 years with consistent policies and a long-term view of the business. Our financial strength is recognized by the international investment grade we have held since 1997 by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch. Our value-based culture has been in place for more than 45 years. We are constantly innovating and are currently working in our digital transformation strategy to become more efficient, facilitating our customer base their daily interactions with the bank. We have a full banking presence in Panama, a corporate bank in Costa Rica, and representative offices in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and Peru. We recognized our responsibilities toward our stakeholders and have developed a comprehensive ESG strategic plan to strengthen our commitment to these issues.

What role does Banco General in the financial inclusion of Panamanians?

We have currently 1.6 million clients, which means that one in every two adult Panamanians banks with us, which gives us an excellent opportunity to create new products and increase our share of wallet. Digital transformation has enabled us to bring new clients to the bank through their cellular phones and by opening a simplified savings account they have access to products like Yappy, a digital payment platform, which clients use to make and receive payments thorough their phone. This has increased our ability to bring in clients who had no banking relations before. Using data and modeling our client behavior allow us to target, thorough scientific models, specific needs of our client base, making much more efficient our product distribution today.

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