Bank CEO Discusses Industry Challenges in Central America

Jaime Sosa is CEO of PSosarival Bank and graduated from the Global Executive MBA program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in 2006. He also serves on Fuqua’s Latin America Regional Advisory Board. Sosa says the first thing anyone trying to do business in Central America needs to understand is that it is a very fragmented region: Six countries, all with different business cultures, drivers and legal framework. He says personal relationships are paramount in the industry and take time and effort to develop.

Sosa shares further insights in this Fuqua Q&A.

Q: What challenges are common across the region?

The current environment for countries that are heavily dependent on commodities is extremely challenging, while others have more favorable economic climates. However, a common theme in a lot of countries in the region is bureaucracy, red tape and corruption. One development that we have seen in the last year is the great effort being made across the region to control and prosecute corruption. This will help the long-term development of the region and the growth of business. but right now one must be very careful to choose the right partners and have the right compliance in place to avoid any contingent liabilities.

Q: What makes banking in Central America unique within the continent?

The main difference in the banking industry in Central America as compared to the rest of Latin America is that you have to manage six different regulators and five currencies in such a small region. You have to be very efficient to be able to operate in such an environment. Apart from that, I would say the sophistication of the products and services vary from country to country, Panama being the country with the deepest banking penetration in Central America.

Q: What does the future hold for banking in Central America?

I believe it will become more regional in the future. With large global banks retrenching to their large home markets, local and regional banks will be in a position to capture additional market share. I think the same can be said of most countries in Latin America, where regional champions are starting to capture more market share, with global institutions either leaving or reducing their presence after the financial crisis.

Q: What’s your personal approach to leadership?

My approach is collaborative. It’s important to always be an integral part of your team. You cannot lead from afar. That entails deeps knowledge of all functions of a business and truly becoming an expert on it. I’ve found that the two most important factors for keeping high performance teams engaged and motivated are work environment and empowerment. When teams feel they can have an impact they respond well. From my experience, the key qualities of being an effective leader are honesty, clear communication, commitment, delegation and confidence.

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