TAKING a business onto the global stage is hard. Doing it with banks can be suicidal owing to their complexity and leverage. For over 100 years an assortment of adventurers and visionaries have almost always tried one of two approaches. Either they spread firms thinly over scores of countries and focus on servicing big companies and facilitating trade. This is the way of Citigroup and HSBC, and the path that China’s big lenders are racing down. Or they focus on investment banking from hubs; think of JPMorgan Chase or Deutsche Bank in New York, Hong Kong and London. Both blueprints have often resulted in buckets of tears.
In the 1990s a “third way” emerged from provincial Spain; creating a global retail bank with a deep presence in many countries, allowing true economies of scale. The pioneer was Santander, a middle-weight bank from the Bay of Biscay. Today it is the king of the euro zone: the bloc’s largest lender by market value, with 133m clients, mainly in Brazil, Britain, Mexico and...Continue reading