After a period of rapid expansion, the Latin America banking sector has experienced slower growth in recent years because of political upheaval and plummeting commodity prices. While the future looks uncertain, major banks are hoping they can return to the double-digit annual growth they saw a decade ago.
Today, the largest banks in Latin America are largely concentrated in three countries, according to the market intelligence firm S&P Global. Brazil claims the five biggest institutions by asset size, while three are headquartered in Mexico and two are based in Colombia. Here is the countdown.
1) Itaú Unibanco Holding, Brazil ($433 billion in assets)
The biggest bank in Latin America, Itaú does business in 21 countries and operates more than 10,000 branches worldwide. The privately-owned company provides traditional corporate banking services as well as investment banking operations and merger and acquisition support.
2) Banco do Brasil, Brazil ($408 billion in assets)
The government-controlled Banco do Brasil, with approximately $408 billion in assets, is Latin America’s second-largest bank. On top of lending to individuals and businesses, the bank also offers asset management services and foreign exchange capabilities. Based in Brasilia, the bank has some 5,440 branches and serves roughly 64 million customers.
3) Caixa Economica Federal, Brazil ($381 billion in assets)
Established in 1969, Caixa is a “private government entity” with a close relationship to the Brazilian Ministry of Finance. The bank plays a key role in executing income transfer programs and putting national housing policies into effect. It also manages the country’s main lottery programs.
4) Banco Bradesco, Brazil ($370 billion in assets)
Headquartered in São Paulo, Banco Bradesco serves individual as well as business clients. In addition to its banking products, it offers insurance services and retirement plans. Founded in 1943, Bradesco operates some 4,749 branches and owns more than 35,000 ATMs.
Like several other Latin American banks, Santander Brasil is actually part of a larger European bank—in this case, Spain-based Santander. In addition to retail banking, credit cards, and home loans, the organization offers asset management and commercial banking services.
Mexico’s largest bank in terms of assets and deposits, Bancomer is a subsidiary of the Spanish company BBVA. Its revenue stream includes retail banking operations, stock brokerage services, insurance, and mutual fund management. BBVA Bancomer now has more than 35,000 employees and a network of 1,833 branches.
7) Banorte, Mexico ($82 billion in assets)
Banorte was opportunistic in the wake of the Mexican financial crisis in the 1990s, acquiring multiple banks and building its presence throughout the country. Officially known as Grupo Financiero Banorte, the bank offers retail banking products as well as investment services, annuity and insurance products, retirement funds, and warehousing capabilities.
8) Grupo Aval, Colombia ($79 billion in assets)
Officially known as Grupo Aval Acciones y Valores SA, this is Colombia's largest banking company. Based in Bogotá, its network of branches extends throughout the country and into Central America. A highly diversified conglomerate, Grupo Aval operates a merchant bank and a pension and severance fund manager in addition to its traditional depository and lending functions.
9. Bancolombia, Colombia ($68 billion in assets)
Bancolombia may have a history that goes back more than 140 years, but it's not stuck in the past. The bank prides itself on being a trendsetter in the use of technology, introducing the first credit card in Latin America in the 1960s and creating the first Internet-based payment system in Colombia's history in 1999.
Santander Mexico provides a wide range of consumer products, including mortgages, credit cards, and personal loans. The bank, a division of Spain-headquartered Santander, also caters to business clients. Services include pension planning services, financing solutions, and foreign trade services.