The service sector has in the past few decades seen an increase in the integration of global economies. The expansion of Spanish banks into Latin America is a striking example of the degree of globalization and integration of financial markets that is increasingly taking place across the globe. The leading Spanish banks have augmented their presence in Latin America to become the largest foreign institutions in retail banking
In view of the above, this paper sheds a light on the process of internationalization with the aim of seeking answers to these questions: What were the motives behind the expansionWhy did Latin America become the target of this expansion and not other European countriesAnd lastly, why did the leading Spanish banks mainly enter Latin American market via acquisitions
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Based on the analysis, the paper finds that the expansion was partly due to increasing liberalization and deregulation of financial activities and in part, a result of the integration of Spain into the EU. The paper also finds that the motives or the reasons behind the expansion were to increase client base, attain greater investment diversification and to thrive in the competitive globalized business environment. Latin America not only offered good investment opportunities but also provided a solution to the problem of lack of competitiveness that most Spanish banks faced.
1.What were the underlying reasons (or ‘motives’) behind the internationalization of leading Spanish banks in the 1980s and 1990s?
The service sector has in the past few decades seen an increase in the integration of global economies. The internationalization of banks is a striking example of the degree of globalization and integration of financial markets that has taken place across the globe (Cardone-Riportella & Cazorla-Papis 2001). The massive presence of globalized financial institutions, especially the leading Spanish banks has changed the picture of banking, insurance and pension fund in Latin America (Calderon 2000).
Whilst the presence of foreign banks in Latin America is not a new phenomenon, the second half of the 1990s saw the internationalization of leading Spanish banks on an unprecedented scale (Slager 2005). Whereas the expansion process occurred in both periods of the 1980s and 1990s, it was in the 1990s that the degree of internationalization grew significantly (Bejar 2007).
Santander first entered Chile in 1978. By 1982, it had already acquired Banco Epol Chile (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000). In 1995 Santander was ranked at position 6 in commercial banking. A further acquisition of Banco Osorno y La Union in 1996 further pushed it to the second position. Its success in the Chilean market is attributed to its superhipoteca, a new mortgage product with aggressive pricing, which allowed the bank to gain 20% of new mortgages (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000).
Similarly, in Argentina where Citibank and BankBoston had dominated for many years, the two leading Spanish banks, Santander and BBV, acquired some of the most profitable banks. In 1997, Santander acquired Banco Rio de la Plata. On the other hand, BBV acquired Banco de Credito Argentino and Banco Frances (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000). But while BBV’s acquisition of Banco Frances was okay, the acquisition of Banco de Credito Argentino was accompanied by many integration problems (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000).
In Mexico, Citibank was the only foreign bank that was allowed to operate. But with Mexico joining NAFTA in1994, it agreed to permit the operations of North American bank and extended the opening to all member states of the OECD (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000). BBV became the first Spanish bank to enter Mexico through the invitation of Probursa. By the late 1990s, it had already established its presence in Mexico with over 335 branches (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000). BCH became the second to enter by acquiring Banco Atlantico and Bital. Santander came third in 1997, acquiring 61% of InverMexico and Banco Mexicano (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000).
Just as it did in Argentina and Chile, these leading Spanish banks also introduced new innovative ideas in Mexico, building a strong depositor base but pursuing different strategies. For example, while BBV introduced ‘libreton’ in 1996, Santander mimicked it by introducing its ‘supercuenta’ (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000). BBV had within a few months created more than 460,000 new accounts whereas ‘Santander’ boasted of 240,000 accounts (Guillen & Tschoegl 2000).
This internationalization is a result of the growing financial liberalization and deregulation. Initially, the banking system in Spain was one of the most regulated in the world with restrictive rules that prevented entry of foreign banks. But in the mid-1970s, there was a significant transformation of Spain from being a politically and economically inward looking country to one that was more open and dynamic (Guillen 2005). The process of financial liberalization and deregulation began. This process of change was speeded up by Spain’s accession to the EU in 1986 (Guillen 2005).
Among the chief underlying reasons for expansion into Latin America was the need to increase client base, attain greater investment diversification in the high growth potential areas and the need to thrive in the competitive landscape (Sebastian & Hernansanz 2000). The deregulation of the 1980s and Spain’s accession to the EU increased competition in retail banking. Spain’s accession to the European Community in 1986 initiated the process of liberalization and deregulation of the banking sector (Bejar 2007). The deregulation included complete liberalization of interest rates and commissions, new legislations covering pension funds and reforms to the stock market (Parada et al 2009).
The process of liberalisation and deregulation was further accelerated with the approval of the Single European Act and Economic Monetary Union which prepared the ground for adoption of the euro within the EU (Bejar 2007). These legislative initiatives had major effects on Spanish bank’s approach and strategy. The leading pish banks were obliged to transcend their territorial or rather national boundaries in order to increase their competitiveness, diversify their investments and to protect themselves from acquisitions and takeovers by other foreign firms (Bejar 2007). Thus, given the competitive landscape and the need to diversify investments, the leading Spanish banks had to introduce new strategies to retail banking.
During that time, the continent of Latin America displayed good investment opportunities. The leading Spanish banks saw a unique opportunity to attain dimensions in Latin America that would provide them with an edge in the demanding international financial markets (Calderon & Casilda 2000). Thus the advantages of localization, the low level of banking services in the region and the growing liberalization led to the expansion of Spanish banks into Latin America (Cardone-Riportella & Cazorla-Papis 2001).
It follows that the decision to expand into Latin America was driven by the need to exploit the favourable financial system environment in the region and to attain greater investment diversification in Latin America. This would enable the Spanish banks to thrive in the competitive globalized business environment
a) What issues should firms consider in selecting international markets to enter
The factors affecting the decision to internationalize activities may vary with a bank’s chosen entry mode. Whilst determinants such as economic growth and high net interest margin may promote one entry mode, others such as the high concentration in the sector and tax relieves can impact positively on the other structures (Hryckiewicz & Kowalewski 2008). Nonetheless, there are certain issues that must be consider when selecting international markets to enter. These can be illustrated clearly with the help of theoretical models.
According to the theory of internationalization, companies internationalize value-generating operations based on the advantages derived from such process of internationalization (Slager 2009). The internationalization process materializes through FDI and contributes to value creation if the benefits of using intangible assets across country borders overrun the cost of operating in the foreign market (Rugman 1976).
Another model that can explain the decision to expand operations into a foreign market is the Transaction cost theory. Based on the transaction cost theory, the decision to enter a foreign market is determined by acquisition of costs including the cost of managing uncertainty (Williamson 1985). The lack of trust and the presence of uncertainty inform the decisions on whether or not to form alliances, mergers and acquisitions (Bergen et al 1992).
Finally, there is the Uppsala model that is often used. According to this model, the focus of internationalization efforts will essentially be on the closer markets due to gradual accumulation of experiential knowledge in these markets which reduces the uncertainty effect (Curci & Cardoza 2009). The expansion of these leading Spanish banks into Latin America confirms the predictions of the Uppsala model which views internalization as an incremental commitment based on the accumulation of experiential knowledge in foreign markets.
In the 1980s, the re-dimensioning process of the European market had not started yet (Mathieson 2005). Due to increased uncertainty in the Latin American market at the time, banks entered timidly with minimal investments. These Spanish banks thus committed low resources during this period due to the risk involved and given their lack of experiential knowledge in the region. But in the 1990s, the re-dimensioning was already underway and in view of the lesser risk and uncertainty; the Spanish banks began investing in the region by acquiring some of the most profitable banks (Mathieson 2005).
Amongst these Spanish banks, the most assertive was Santander primarily due to its strong capital base and previous experience in the region (Guillen & Tschoegl 1999). BBV, on the other hand, was at first cautious in investing in the region due to the lack of exposure in the region (Guillen & Tschoegl 1999). But later, it increased its investments in the region acquiring a number of profitable banks. This clearly illustrates the benefits of low commitment entry modes and taking time to understand the foreign market before increasing investments.
2. In light of this, why did the leading Spanish banks target Latin America for their international expansion?
The international expansion of Spanish banks into Latin America was speeded up by Spain’s accession to the EU (Curci & Cardoza 2009). At the time, competition had grown intensely and it had become increasingly difficult to grow business in the saturated domestic markets. With Spain joining the EU in 1986, it generated a new threat as operation in the Spanish market meant head-to-head competition with the well established European firms (Curci & Cardoza 2009).
The Spanish banks were thus faced with the dilemma of either competing within the domestic markets or expanding and competing in the international markets. But due to the need for investment diversification and the need to thrive in the competitive landscape, the Spanish banks opted to pursue business internationally (Curci & Cardoza 2009).
However, owing to the lack of substantial capital, it was perceived not viable to expand into other European countries. Thus, as predicted by the Uppsala model, Latin America became the target of this international expansion since it was ‘psychologically’ a closer market (Cardoza et al 2007). With this strategy, the Spanish banks protected themselves from acquisitions and possible takeovers by other European companies (Cardoza et al 2007). On its part, Latin America had instituted neo-liberal reforms that included deregulation, liberalization and economic opening (Curci & Cardoza 2009). Retail banking in Latin America was during that time in the process of being regulated and given the low level of penetration of foreign firms and the potentially high margins in the region, it offered great investment opportunities (Curci & Cardoza 2009). At the time, potential margins were high and the standards of regulating and supervision were rapidly improving (Bejar 2007). Also, Latin America lacked enough capital resources and demand for banking services was rapidly rising. In view of these, the leading Spanish banks moved to augment their presence in the region and in less than a decade, these banks had grown from being Spain-only operators to becoming major international players in retail banking.
Within a short period of time, these Spanish banks had already achieved the status of multinationals and most importantly, they were accorded the status of key world players in the banking industry (Bejar 2007). Their status was moved from being banks confined within the territories of Spain to becoming major international operators whose initiatives were scrutinized around the entire globe (Bejar 2007).
Owing to the success of this internationalization process, these Spanish banks now enjoy a sound reputation and are often regarded as a plus factor in countries that they currently operate in. The expansion of these Spanish banks to Latin America was indeed a stepping stone towards their global growth (Bejar 2007). It is clear from the above as to why the leading Spanish banks targeted Latin America for their expansion. Latin America did not only offer good investment opportunities but the region also provided a solution to the problem of lack of competitiveness that most Spanish banks faced.
Why did Spanish banks mainly enter Latin American markets via acquisitionsWhat are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach compared to other possible market entry modes?
There are two main modes of market entry into a foreign market: equity and Non equity modes. The non-equity modes include: the export strategy mode that involves direct and indirect exports; and contractual agreement modes which include research and development contracts, co-marketing strategy, and licensing/franchising among others (Peng 2008).
The equity modes include joint ventures and partially owned subsidiaries (WOS). A Joint venture entails some form of FDI in which the foreign firm is allowed a certain degree of control of the entity. The advantages of joint ventures include cost and risk sharing (Peng 2008). Another advantage is the access to knowledge about the host country. Joint ventures are also considered more politically acceptable.
There are however certain disadvantages to this mode of entry. First, since it involves partners from different background and with different goals, conflicts are inevitable. Secondly, it may be difficult to achieve effective equity and operational control since everything must be negotiated. Finally, the nature of a joint venture does not give the multinational effective control over foreign subsidiary which may be necessary for global coordination (Peng 2008).
On the other side, wholly owned subsidiaries can be achieved in two primary ways: establishing ‘Greenfield’ operations or through acquisition which is probably the most important in terms of amount of capital involved (Mullineux & Murinde 2003). As we have seen in the present case, the mode of entry used by the Spanish banks to enter Latin America is through acquisitions. The two leading Spanish banks, Santander and Bilbao Vizeaya, had in less than a decade augmented their presence in Latin America through some 20 acquisitions (Cardone-Riportella & Cazorla-Papis 2001).
The advantages of acquisitions as a mode of entry are that it gives the multinational complete control which leads to better protection of proprietary technology (Mullineux & Murinde 2003). Also, acquisitions allows for central coordination of global actions. As pointed out by Tschoegl (2003), foreign firms in the long run end up having no comparative advantage in retail banking. For such reasons, acquisition of domestic banks presents the only noble solution. Through acquisitions, these Spanish banks were able to gain greater comparative advantage in Latin America.
On the flip side, however, the risks involved both financially and politically are high. The conspicuous foreignness embodied in this mode of entry may become a target for national sentiments (Peng 2008). Additionally, this mode of entry may be affected by post-acquisition integration problems. Nonetheless, the Spanish banks opted to use acquisitions as a mode of entry as this would give them complete control and allow them to gain share rapidly in the Latin American market.
The expansion of Spanish banks into Latin America reflects the ongoing globalization and integration of financial markets that is increasingly taking place across the globe. The internationalization of the leading Spanish banks can partly be explained by the growing financial liberalization and deregulation and partly due to Spain’s accession to the EU in 1986.
Among the chief underlying reasons for expansion into Latin America was the need to increase client base, attain greater investment diversification in the high growth potential areas and to thrive in the competitive landscape. At the time of the expansion, retail banking in Latin America was in the process of being regulated and the low level of penetration of foreign firms and the potentially high margins in the region offered great investment opportunities. Furthermore, Latin America lacked enough capital resources and demand for banking services was rapidly rising.
As such, Latin America not only offered good investment opportunities but also provided a solution to the problem of lack of competitiveness that most Spanish banks faced. This expansion confirms the predictions of the Uppsala model which views internalization as an incremental commitment based on the accumulation of experiential knowledge in foreign markets.
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