Home Banking Interview with Mr. Álvaro Saborío, Chief Executive Officer, Grupo Financiero BCT

Interview with Mr. Álvaro Saborío, Chief Executive Officer, Grupo Financiero BCT

by internationalbanker


Banco BCT S.A., headquartered in San José, Costa Rica, is a subsidiary of Corporación BCT S.A., which began operating 45 years ago as BCT Consultores Asociados. The entity was the brainchild of four financial professionals who shared a vision of creating a group of companies to serve the financial needs of the Costa Rican population. In the same year, 1978, the firm acquired the shareholding and administration of S.A. General de Comisiones, a founding member of the National Stock Exchange (Bolsa Nacional de Valores, or BNV). In 1981, Corporación BCT S.A. was officially launched. Today, through its subsidiaries, it offers products and services in the areas of personal, commercial, private and investment banking, as well as stock-market services.

Banco BCT was founded in 1983 with a focus on excellence and a mission to contribute to the financial progress and achievements of businesses and individuals. Three years later, BCT Bank International began operations according to the laws of Grand Cayman. To expand its products and services, Banco BCT acquired Corporación Bancomer in 2000 and Compañía Financiera de Londres in 2007. BCT Bank International and Banco BCT Panama merged in 2002. Six years later, BCT Bank International received a general banking license in Panama, and in 2017, BCT absorbed Balboa Bank & Trust and its subsidiaries, further expanding its reach in Panama.

Today, based on the trust relationship it has built up with its customers over the years, Banco BCT is the largest private financial institution with national capital in Costa Rica.

International Banker recently interviewed Grupo Financiero BCT’s chief executive officer, Mr. Álvaro Saborío, to explore the bank’s recent successes in meeting its vision of providing the best banking experiences for its customers in a sustainable manner.

Mr. Álvaro Saborío, Chief Executive Officer, Grupo Financiero BCT

Mr. Saborío, thank you for your time today…. 

Banco BCT’s stated mission is to “contribute to the progress and development of companies, people and society”. Please provide examples (one of each) from recent times of the bank contributing to the progress and development of companies, people and society.

We believe our mission statement truly guides what we do every day. We have contributed to the progress and development of thousands of companies throughout the years. One of the most recent examples in which we believe we have lived up to our mission was leading, along with Monroe Capital, a transaction of $130 million to finance the construction of a real-estate development in Papagayo, Guanacaste. By leading this transaction, we had to work with and negotiate alongside multiple local and foreign financial institutions for this combined loan to become a reality. This investment will contribute to direct and indirect employment in Guanacaste Province during the construction stages and once it opens to the public. We consider Guanacaste to have enormous potential, which is one of the main reasons we decided to be a part of this project.

Regarding our human progress and development, we provide our retail customers with financial solutions to protect and grow their savings and offer responsible loan solutions so they can achieve their entrepreneurial and/or personal goals. Banco BCT contributes to society in many ways, but we consider our biggest impact to be the creation of direct employment through more than 500 qualified jobs, of which women fill more than 50 percent. We also contribute to indirect-employment creation through our goods and services providers, investments and other activities. We not only provide employment to more than 500 individuals, but we also invest in them through specialized training, school scholarships and the development of other skills and capabilities.

According to the bank’s quarterly financial statements for the end of September 2022, its total financial income was around 15 percent higher than a year earlier. To what main factors do you attribute this impressive growth?

We attribute this important growth to three key factors: 1. Our clients’ ongoing trust and loyalty are the most important factors to which we attribute this growth. 2. Our Corporate and Private Banking teams have, as we aim to do year after year, improved their performances by seeking and attracting new clients and cross-selling and up-selling with our current clients. 3. Creating better and more tailor-made financial products and services by deeply understanding the wants and needs of our clients and their industries, as well as obsessing about delivering the best banking experiences for our clients.

Banco BCT is in its 45th year of business as of 2023. How different is the bank today in terms of its business model, culture and values compared to when it was founded in 1978 as BCT Consultores Asociados? Would you say that the bank is currently enjoying its most prosperous period of operation?

Back in 1978, when BCT was founded, our business model was mostly based on serving medium- and large-sized companies in certain industries and individuals with high net worth. Throughout the years, our client base has become more diverse; we currently provide banking products and services in the corporate sector to small, medium, large and multinational companies. In the retail sector, we offer products and services to a wide range of individuals. Banco BCT’s culture and values have remained consistent throughout our 45 years of operation. Our culture is based on a philosophy to consistently seek excellence while creating value for our customers, employees and suppliers. Our values are grounded solidly in ethical and transparent behavior and zero tolerance for discrimination. Teamwork, solidarity, critical thinking and honesty are some of the soft skills we expect our employees to have and consistently work to improve. I would say that every year has its challenges. Every year we aim to outdo ourselves, and 2022 was no exception. We believe it was a prosperous year; however, we expect the upcoming years to be more and more prosperous.

The SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) sector seems to be a particularly important client sector for Banco BCT. What are some main ways the bank’s overall service to this sector exceeds that of its local banking peers? And how does technology play a role, if at all, in enhancing the bank’s service to SMEs?

We have provided financial products and services to the SME sector since BCT was founded. But more than just a provider of financial products and services, we offer our SME clients personalized advisory through which we create long-term value for our customers. Our team specializing in digital channels is constantly talking to and listening to our SME clients and designing new functions that provide solutions or make banking easier for them. This allows innovation to effectively solve any pain points our clients might have or needs that are not being satisfied. We believe the SME sector considers Banco BCT to be more than just a service provider but also a business partner.

Please briefly explain what BCT Patrimonial is. What are some of the asset-management products and services available to customers through BCT Patrimonial?

BCT Patrimonial is an exclusive service provided to high-net-worth individuals and family groups. These clients receive an extremely customized service and permanent advisory from a group of experts who will seek to maximize their returns but whose main purpose is to protect and responsibly manage their assets. These customized services and products result from understanding our clients’ goals, ambitions and expectations; based on this deep understanding, we create value for these clients. BCT’s team will provide a range of portfolio options that will help clients achieve their financial goals in a seamless but especially safe way. These portfolios consider asset-management products and services offered through Banco BCT’s banking products and trust funds, as well as our asset-management products provided by other BCT subsidiaries, such as our brokerage house BCT Valores and our investment-fund subsidiary, BCT SAFI (Sociedad Administradora de Fondos).

What are some of the bank’s key philosophies when it comes to customer service? What are the most important attributes for the bank to possess to cultivate long-term client relationships successfully? 

One of our key philosophies when it comes to customer service is the term frictionless. No matter what product, service or transaction one of our clients requests, it should happen under the pillars of effectiveness, agility, simplicity and the pursuit of excellence. We believe trust is the most important attribute for the bank to possess to cultivate a long-term client relationship successfully; trust in how we carry on with the business and how responsibly we manage the assets that our clients deposit with us. Our clients trust our judgment and the risk policies we implement to guarantee the current and future safety of their assets.

One of the most notable recent deals involving the bank is financing the construction of Nekajui, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve resort situated on Peninsula Papagayo, with BCT and Monroe Capital loaning $130 million on a combined basis. What more can you tell us about this deal, and what motivated Banco BCT, in particular, to provide the bulk of the funding?

The Nekajui investment on Peninsula Papagayo was, without a doubt, a challenge due to the complexity of the transaction; however, challenges usually prove what the team I have the pleasure of leading can achieve. This transaction involved many participants, some of which were Gencom, Monroe Capital, six financial institutions and multiple law firms.

What motivated Banco BCT to provide the bulk of the funding was the motivation to continue contributing to the economic and social development of the Guanacaste Province, where we have seen immense potential for almost three decades. The Nekajui Reserve Resort provides a great platform to begin exposing Guanacaste Province’s potential; this project especially has the capacity to generate hundreds of direct and indirect jobs during and after the construction. We strongly believe our mission is to provide companies with the financial resources to grow and expand and, therefore, provide job options and wealth for all Costa Rican citizens.

What are some of the key ways in which Banco BCT ensures it conducts business in a socially and environmentally responsible manner? Are issues such as climate change important for the bank to address, and if so, how is this handled in the bank’s lending decisions?

In 2010, we implemented an Environmental and Social Management System, which has protocols with risk metrics per industry. We apply these protocols to our clients, and this assessment is part of the credit-risk analysis performed prior to lending decisions. These protocols provide guidelines for us and our clients on regulatory requirements per industry and also best practices around the world regarding social and environmental responsibility. Banco BCT has incorporated strict measures to reduce the direct environmental impacts of our operations. Currently, we produce through a solar plant more than 40 percent of the electricity we require for our headquarters; we have reduced our water usage to the minimum. During the process of transforming our policies and procedures, we have the clear goal of eliminating the use of paper in any process that doesn’t require it by our regulators, among other reductions in our environmental footprint. 

Would you say the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the bank’s culture and philosophy in any significant way? And as CEO of the bank, what was the most important lesson you learned from the pandemic regarding your approach to banking leadership?

During the first weeks of the pandemic, digital-channel adoption grew significantly in the banking industry. Most of our clients were already digital-banking users, but those who weren’t adopted digital channels easily. We were well prepared to provide a home-based banking experience and offer the same level of service through our digital channels.

I believe the COVID-19 pandemic changed many things in many industries. In some industries, changes were temporary, and these changes are gradually being reversed to pre-COVID-19 practices; in other industries, changes are here to stay. Aside from increasing the number of our employees able to work from home, I’d say BCT’s culture and philosophy did not face significant changes due to this historic event.

COVID-19 was full of lessons, and I would like to refer to two particular lessons that deeply impacted me. Probably the most important lesson learned in terms of banking leadership was granted to me by our main stakeholders. When the worldwide scenario seemed uncertain in terms of how long the economic shutdown would last, our responsibility was to provide our board of directors and stakeholders with scenarios to achieve at least a fraction of the expected profits. One would certainly understand that administrative expenses (salaries and employee-related expenses) are significant amounts, but reducing the number of employees was immediately discarded by these stakeholders—who claimed that, as a company, this was of all times the most crucial one to be there for our employees, considering the situations in other industries and that possibly those who worked with us could be their families’ only sources of income.

The second most important lesson in banking leadership is how the banking industry as a whole took a step forward and provided companies and individuals with measures that provided temporary relief in uncertain times. This proves once again that working together as a whole makes it easier to overcome any challenges we may face.

Banco BCT’s stated vision is “to be the best banking experience for customers, through the values of our employees, directors and shareholders, in line with sustainability”. Do you believe the bank has already achieved this vision? If not, what more is required to achieve it?

I believe we have somewhat achieved this vision because our main differentiator continues to be our customer experience; our employees, directors and shareholders share our corporate values, and sustainability is part of our strategy. However, I state that it’s somewhat achieved because we must remain vigilant and be strict critics of ourselves in order to continue delivering what our clients expect and aiming to exceed their expectations. We will continue to work with compromise and responsibility, so that year after year, we challenge ourselves and truly remain the best banking experience for our customers.

The Inn of Bethlehem is a non-profit organization dedicated to the comprehensive care of adolescent mothers and their babies, who live at the inn and receive academic and technical education. Why did you decide to become involved in supporting this worthy initiative? 

We have been an ally to La Posada de Belen (the Inn of Bethlehem) for more than 15 years. We decided to become involved in supporting this non-profit organization because we believe children are certainly the future of our country, and these future women require tools and skills that will give them opportunities to face not only the current challenges of raising a child at a young age but also the challenges they will face in the foreseeable future. These young women and their babies deserve to be cared for by covering their basic living needs and educational needs. With this organization, we have worked on different programs that range from tools to help them face the hiring processes in companies to personal finances to tutoring for different school subjects, among others.

Banco BCT has certainly fulfilled its mission of contributing to the progress and development of individuals and society in various ways. Thank you again for speaking with us.


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