Banco Santander Brasil is an autonomous subsidiary of Grupo Santander—a Spanish multinational conglomerate that is the eurozone’s largest financial group with an extensive presence worldwide, including in Latin America. Headquartered in São Paulo, Banco Santander Brasil has grown since its beginnings in 1982 to become the country’s third-largest private bank by assets, partly through a series of significant acquisitions from 1997 to 2007.In 2009, the financial institution launched an initial public offering on the São Paulo Stock Exchange. The bank’s operations are divided into two main divisions: commercial, which includes retail products and services for individuals and small and medium-sized companies, and wholesale, serving larger companies and capital-market operations. The bank’s influence is vast, with branches and service points reaching customers throughout the country. Guided by its cultural philosophy “contribute for people and businesses to prosper”, Banco Santander Brasil regards itself as Brazilians’ partner in their shared journey to a more “prosperous and sustainable economy”. The bank is not content to focus only on financial matters but strives to be a crucial partner in the communities within which it serves, initiating programs and projects that make life better for Brazilians, such as centers of culture, entrepreneurship and leisure. The bank is actively involved in building an inclusive Brazilian society that provides broad and unbiased access to financial services as well as education and career opportunities. Banco Santander Brasil constantly searches for opportunities to improve its delivery and has introduced some remarkable digital innovations to the Brazilian market, such as its AI-powered virtual-assistant GENTE. Through these achievements, the bank is making a significant contribution to include underbanked Brazilians in the nation’s financial umbrella.
International Banker welcomed Mr. Angel Santodomingo, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice-President, to provide an update on the bank’s progress during unprecedented times.
Mr. Santodomingo, welcome….
Banco Santander Brasil seems to have cultivated an especially impressive presence within the auto sector. What specific measures and strategies have you taken to propel the bank to such a market-dominant position in this sector? And how has this particular business performed since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic?
Our strategy focuses on accompanying the different phases of the customer journey to search, purchase, use or sell a vehicle through the digitalization of our entire product-and-service chain, which sets itself apart from the market. At all stages of this journey, customers who want to buy vehicles, get insurance, keep their cars in good running order or sell them safely will have our support. To achieve excellence in this market, we utilize our ecosystem to offer our customers complete journeys. Despite the pandemic, we remain pioneers in providing solutions to customers. This year, for instance, we launched “Troca com Troco” in partnership with Webmotors, enabling customers to sell their financed cars, finance the purchases of less expensive vehicles and pocket the differences. This product has already yielded very positive results. In addition, Santander Auto, a fully digital insurance company, was the first business in the auto-insurance sector to surpass the $100-million mark in premiums in just one year. Finally, also in collaboration with Webmotors, we set up mobility hubs in the parking areas of selected branches, where customers can view or display their vehicles for sale.
What do you consider to be the single biggest challenge the bank has faced since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic? And how has the bank attempted to overcome this challenge?
GENTE sounds like an exciting way through which the bank can serve its customers. Can you briefly describe how this service works? And in particular, can you explain how GENTE utilises artificial intelligence to optimise its performance?
GENTE is our multichannel virtual assistant, available to customers through WhatsApp, our web portal, our mobile channel and the Santander Way app. It emerged from combining the experiences and diversity of our talents with the latest advances in collective intelligence. From the feedback loop of its interactions, the artificial-intelligence mechanisms can identify the most relevant answers for the next time the same inquiries arise. In other words, with each passing day, GENTE becomes more assertive and efficient. The results of these first few months of operation speak for themselves: following more than 37 million interactions, 70 percent of questions were answered, earning an NPS (Net Promoter Score) of 76 points, which shows that customers are satisfied with this new service alternative. We continue to finetune GENTE to ensure that this tool keeps evolving and contributing to enhancing our services.
How important is cultivating a diverse and inclusive working environment for Banco Santander Brasil? What are some of the bank’s measures to improve diversity and inclusion within its employee headcount?
How concerned is the bank about its impact on the environment? And have any specific measures been taken to reduce its environmental footprint (for example, with regards to financing fossil-fuel companies, issuing more green bonds, etc.)?
This is an issue to which we have dedicated intense effort, and it is embedded into our culture. We have been carbon-neutral since 2010; we use renewable energy in 47 percent of our operations; and we have been rapidly reducing our use of paper and plastic (“deplastify”). But more than just controlling our environmental footprint, we are working for the entire productive sector and our customers to do the same. With that in mind, we were pioneers in creating sustainable businesses. For our individual customers, we offer responsible investment funds, such as Santander Go and Ethical, the latter operating with its own global methodology. For customer companies, we are at the forefront of green-bond issuances, ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance)-linked loans (our portfolio is now close to R$1 billion) and solar-energy financing. We conducted the first green-bond issuance in Brazil’s transportation and logistics sector, amounting to US$500 million, and the second sustainability-linked bond transaction in the world, which totaled US$1.25 billion. Today, we have a 70-percent market share of CBios, a mechanism used to promote biofuel production, and we have introduced a specific line in the amount of R$5 billion to finance basic sanitation. This year, in an unprecedented move, we also joined forces with our top competitors to develop and implement the Amazon Plan, which will boost sustainable development in the Amazon region.
As a finance professional, are you currently satisfied with the levels of financial inclusion in Brazil? Does the bank take this issue seriously, and if so, what are some of the measures being taken to boost financial inclusion around the country?
Financial inclusion is still a challenge in Brazil, but we witnessed a very welcome decline in the number of unbanked people during the pandemic. Approximately 45 million Brazilians did not have a bank account in 2019, but recent research indicates that there has already been a 70-percent drop in this population. This is attributable to the efforts of all participants, alongside specific themes, such as the distribution of emergency aid in the country, which required its beneficiaries to have bank accounts to receive the amounts from the federal government. One of our initiatives to foster financial inclusion in Brazil is Superdigital, a digital-payments platform that provides access to numerous services at low cost, without the need to open a current account. We also have several financial-education and microfinance programs to bring more people into the banking system, which is paramount for access to credit and better quality of life.
As far as the bank’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) is concerned, what have been some of the main ways Banco Santander Brasil has supported wider communities in their fights against the coronavirus pandemic?
We quickly realized that the contribution of the whole society would be crucial if we were to combat the effects of the pandemic with the required speed and effectiveness. Among the several actions taken: We directly donated R$100 million to support the nationwide fight against COVID-19. In another unprecedented step, we collaborated with our competitors to distribute more than 17 million masks under the “Heroes Wear Masks” initiative. But we also relied on the help of society and our employees. Considering only the “Friend of Value”, which had the participation of 60 percent of our employees, and “Elderly Partner” programs, we raised and distributed R$32 million to hospitals and other associations. During the special edition of the 2020 Santander Week, we were featured on the programming schedules of TV channels and radio stations with a solidarity telethon calling on the public to support “Cufa” (Central Union of Slums). Hundreds of artists joined the action, and we managed to donate R$7.2 million to more than 20,000 mothers living in communities all over the country. Altogether, about 100 hospital-support projects and 270,000 people were impacted by these initiatives.
What do you consider to be the bank’s most significant challenge over the next 12 to 24 months? And how do you intend to accomplish it?
The biggest challenge, not only for us but for any company in the coming months and years, is to develop the ability to continue providing great service to customers while operating in a still-uncertain landscape marked by changes on several fronts. That is why, along with building a culture that values innovation with speed and productivity, our constant quest for efficiency gains even more importance. Our banking and related companies’ ecosystem allows us to win new businesses and markets with a high level of service digitalization and provides us with the agility needed to go head-to-head with any competitor, regardless of their size. Given our unique culture, we are able to react with the required speed to potential—and increasingly likely—shifts in the competitive environment, as has been proven in recent years, and particularly in 2020.
Mr. Santodomingo, you and your team at Banco Santander Brasil are certainly doing an excellent job of living up to your bank’s full potential. Thank you again for speaking with us today.