20 April 2024

The bank behind a nation on the rise

| The European |

It’s a good time to be Colombian. After a 2016 peace accord that ended the country’s 50-year civil war (the longest running conflict in the world), the country is now on the front foot. GDP is expected to grow by 3.2% in 2019 and Colombia has avoided many of the economic woes that have hit other South American nations in recent years, in fact, it is now the third biggest economy on the continent. This success hasn’t come from nowhere – it is closely tied to its strong leadership and the country’s liberal economic policies.

But this is no time for the nation to rest on its laurels – there are plenty of global and local challenges on the horizon, and the country and its institutions will need to keep adapting for its current success to last.

One organisation that knows this better than most is 144-year-old Bancolombia, the nation’s largest bank (with 22,000 employees) and its most reputable company, according to reputation monitoring business Merco Colombia. With a long history of innovation and adaptation, the bank is certainly well placed to contribute to Colombia’s – as well as the region’s – future prosperity. And, since being appointed in 2016, Bancolombia’s new CEO Juan Carlos Mora Uribe has led on this vision.

Surpassing client expectations

Since taking the helm of Bancolombia, Mr Mora has developed a strong yet simple vision for the business: to transform banking. It’s no secret that traditional finance is undergoing significant change and disruption from new entrants. What’s more, consumers are expecting more from banks – both in terms of their service, but also in terms of what they stand for. Bancolombia’s customer-centric vision aims to surpass its client’s expectations – not only in Colombia, but also in its subsidiaries in Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador.

This plan is being put into action with a four-pronged approach which encourages innovation at all levels of the business, an openness to startups and fintech, a focus on simplifying the customer experience, and a readiness to pivot and launch new business models. Underpinning all of this is a customer-centric approach, aiming to make banking as easy and as smooth as possible.

Internally, Bancolombia promotes a culture based on networks and articulated work between departments that guarantees the convergence of multiple capabilities around a common purpose: the preference of customers.

How do these targets translate into concrete actions? Bancolombia has announced a spate of recent initiatives that show this vision is more than just words. Perhaps most notably, the bank was ranked as the world’s most sustainable bank in 2018, according to the Dow Jones Global Sustainability Index. Mr Mora explained the significance of this award: “Sustainability makes part of the DNA of the decisions that we make every day, always seeking for people to live positive experiences with us.”

The bank has invested heavily in new ways of supporting Colombia’s sustainable growth. Innovations include a green bond issuance, financing lines specifically aimed at sustainable housing construction and an institution aimed at supporting green agricultural practices.

Besides its creative approach to sustainable banking, Bancolombia is heavily involved in making a positive contribution to society as a whole. In Colombia, they serve over 50% of the large SME segment and have a strong focus on connecting businesses to further support their growth. Mr Mora summarises this philosophy: “Banking has an inescapable commitment to reducing social inequality, increasing economic growth and improving the quality of life in a country.”

Creating new opportunities through technology

Bancolombia is no stranger to taking bold and innovative steps. For instance, they launched Latin America’s first credit card in 1969. It was also one of the first banks on the continent to offer online banking and also introduced the first internet payment service for Colombian customers in 1999.

More recently, Bancolombia became the first bank in Colombia to offer a 100% digital banking model, called Nequi, which has over 800,000 customers in a nation of 50 million.

The retail, SMEs, and corporate banking divisions are constantly expanding their range of products, in addition to their portfolio of leasing, investment, brokerage and offshore services.

And today, this culture of openness to innovation continues. Bancolombia has been developing new business models that leverage disruptive technologies such as analytics, artificial intelligence and strategic assets such as data.

An example of this is Plink, an analytics and advanced intelligence solution that provides merchants with access to a wealth of information on the health of their business, how their sales are evolving, who their customers are (demographics, income, profession, etc.), where they live (through heat maps of their customers locations), purchasing habits, and more. This technology helps merchants make the best decisions for their business.

Looking forward for Colombia and the wider region

Colombia is going through a period of unprecedented change and strong growth, and this bodes well for the country’s future. Nonetheless, this change demands forward thinking leadership and an openness to change. Thankfully for Colombia, one of its largest institutions is poised to support it on this journey.

Bancolombia is more than just a standard financial institution. Entwined closely with the country’s history, it has played a major role in building the nation and is set to play a significant role in its future. And with its emphasis on innovation and sustainability, it certainly looks like Colombia’s future will be a bright one.

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