The Business Year

Rolando J. de León de Alba

PANAMA - Finance

The Right Stuff

General Manager, Banco Nacional de Panamá

Bio

Rolando de León de Alba has been General Manager of Banco Nacional de Panamá since July 2014. He holds a degree in international relations with a focus on economics from Florida State University and an MBA with a focus on strategic management from the Universidad Interamericana de Panamá, summa cum laude.

TBY talks to Rolando J. de León de Alba, General Manager of Banco Nacional de Panamá, on the country's international reputation, plans for expansion, and new technologies.

Panama has just been removed from the FATF’s Grey List. How will this impact people’s perceptions of Panama internationally?

That has important ramifications. Since we were added to the list in 2014, the whole country came together, including the private sector and the government, to develop a strategy to get us off that list. Panama took the necessary steps, and this was finally achieved. Now we are in the process of consolidating that effort so that we will never end up on another similar list in the future. Being a small country, our potential is tied to our reputation so we need to protect that, as well as gain back all of the business that was lost or affected, especially with the correspondence banks for local banking institutions in the country. That is actually the main directive that Panama will take, and it is an effort not only by the government, but also the Banking Association of Panama and the Superintendency of Banks of Panama. We definitely have a new opportunity and we should not miss it.

What are your plans for expansion?

Panama still needs banking services around the country. Banco Nacional is in fact the only source for banking services in some places, which is of some concern for the government. We also need to evaluate whether we need to create more physical branches or expand via technological means. We are currently using both, because there are some sectors in rural areas that have neither. In order to introduce technology, we have to bring some physical capacity first and then start preparing people so that they can effectively use the services, which is an interesting process. The government currently runs different subsidy programs, but there is also an opportunity to teach people who receive those subsidies to save and invest, because these subsidies will not last forever. We have to teach our people to take advantage of that and to develop a different perspective, one through which they see a need to use the funds to advance and enhance their businesses and their lives and further integrate with the economic cycle. In that way, Banco Nacional wants to create new sources of economic development in certain areas that are currently stagnating through establishing new branches.

How quickly are banks and customers adapting to new technology in Panama?

They are adapting quickly. A large part of those subsidies are being delivered through electronic bank cards, which people have embraced. The next step will be to use mobile technology in the more remote areas. Panamanians embrace new technology and we want to leverage that to create a new way of seeing banking services in the future, because mobile phones will be the new branch for current accounts and services. This transition can be carried out within a short period of time. This will grant people fast access, and the ability to accomplish a lot of tasks that in the past they were not able to do within the current banking relationship.

Panama saw a 16.9% increase in FDI in 2015. How will the banking sector continue to drive that growth?

A lot of this increase represents reinvested earnings. There are currently around 97 or 98 banks currently in Panama, and approximately 46 or 47 of them have general licenses. Banks are discovering new ways to finance big projects, whereas in the past they only looked at external financing. Banks are now in a better position to get involved in things that we need, and that reflects part of the industry’s growth. There is a great deal of competition as well as offerings, and people use banking services more. We are on a good path, and if more banks come they will face a great deal of competition, because the institutions here offer a wide range of services. It would be beneficial to come to Panama and shop for banking services, because we have everything.

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