Amid Panama’s stable growth, Banco General is faced with stiff competition in both corporate and retail banking. General has diversified its portfolio across loans, credit cards and corporate finance this year, while looking internationally for funding. 

General’s total assets grew 11.5% at June 2015 year-on-year, reaching $14.2 billion, a faster pace than competitor BAC International Bank, which recorded 9% growth. At June 2015, the bank’s profits were up 7% year on year, while its tier one capital ratio reached 17%, double the national requirement of 8% and sharply higher than other Panamanian lenders. 

General manager Raúl Alemán stresses the importance of keeping a balanced portfolio. “The main attraction now is in mortgages, energy and project financing for government investments and some suppliers,” he says. 

The bank has also invested heavily in its retail business. General commenced a strong marketing drive to promote online banking facilities, new debit and credit card technology and a push to lower transaction fees. 

“We are selling a model that invests a lot in ATMs and technology,” Alemán says. “We manage close to 38% of all ATM transactions throughout Panama, a movement where clients are exposed to new technology.” 

Banco General planted the seeds of the retail focus almost two years ago when it began partnering with supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations in areas of the country that didn’t have branches. Dubbed “BG Express”, the boutiques offer basic services and extended hours to non-traditional, lower-income clientele. 

In capital markets, this April the bank completed a $200 million corporate bond for Cable Onda. The book closed 1.5 times oversubscribed and attracted a diverse group of investors, Alemán says. 

Banco General has outlined plans to expand services into Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, on top of its growth in Panama and Costa Rica. LF

WINNER: Banco General