The World’s Best Banks 2024 – Central America

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Post-pandemic growth is accompanied by increasing remittances.

Central American economies have boomed in the wake of the pandemic thanks to lower-than-average inflation in the region, allowing central banks to impose looser policies than larger global economies.

However, the region received a further boost in 2023 thanks to record-breaking remittances and an improving labor market, mainly supported by the near-shoring boom, booming tourism and continued profitability across the commodity spectrum. As a result, Central America’s combined GDP is estimated to have grown at an annual rate of 3.5% by 2023, significantly above the global average of 3.1%, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Eclac ) of the UN. .

Panama stood out as the main winner among the region’s leaders, with an impressive GDP growth of 6.1% last year. Costa Rica followed with growth of 4.9%, according to Eclac estimates.

In the banking sector, continued efforts towards further digitalization – an area where the region still lags – and the growth of the commercial loan portfolio were the main drivers of the profitability of the more prominent players.

Best banks in Central America
Belize Belize Bank Limited
Costa Rica BAC Credomatic
El Salvador Banco Cuscatlan
Guatemala Banco Industrial
Honduras Ficohsa
Nicaragua Banco LAFISE
Panama Banco General

With a strong presence in Panama and Costa Rica, BAC Credomatic is our best bank in Central America for the fourth year in a row and in our home country of Costa Rica for the sixth year in a row.

BAC Credomatic CEO Rodolfo Tabash
Rodolfo Tabash Espinach, BAC Credomatic

The bank took advantage of the macroeconomic tailwinds to deepen its leadership and achieve significant growth across its businesses. It posted solid net profit growth of 27.2% year-over-year for its regional operations, mainly due to increasing loan profitability and the strength of investment banks in Costa Rica and Panama.

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These figures were boosted by BAC’s focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), where the bank recorded impressive growth of 22% last year. The increased integration of digital banking drove these remarkable figures, which increased by 50% that year. BAC’s personal banking sector also grew, reaching 4.7 million customers by the end of 2023.

The figures received a significant boost from the bank’s money transfer app, Kash, which has contributed to a 340% jump in the number of new digital accounts. This was mainly due to increased activity in BAC’s home country of Costa Rica, where the bank tested breakthrough features such as Apple Pay and the integration of artificial intelligence into its financial services.

Improving digital integration and growth in SME lending was also the secret behind a fantastic year for the Best Bank in Guatemala, Banco Industrial. Amid major political challenges, the bank has increased its market share in the country to 29.2% in total assets, 29.1% in total net loans, 27.6% in total deposits, 23.6% in equity assets and 28.4% in net income.

Amid the hotly contested Salvadoran market, the 2024 winner, Banco Cuscatlanfocused its growth operation on corporate and mortgage loans, where it recorded the highest growth rate in the country over the past three years.

In Belize, the winner, Belize Bank, expanded its investment and lending portfolio to maintain its position as the country’s largest bank in terms of assets and profitability. According to the Central Bank of Belize, as of July 2023, the country had an impressive 1.9 billion Belize dollars (approximately US$939 million).

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Leveraging its position as a leading bank in Honduras in terms of assets and profitability, Banco Ficohsa was able to grow its asset base at 13.5% year-on-year, the best in the country.

The secret behind Ficohsa’s above-average performance is its continued investment in its digital offering. Furthermore, by partnering with more than thirty remittance companies, Ficohsa benefited from the booming remittances.

In Nicaragua, Banco LAFISE Bancentro has achieved and exceeded several key milestones, demonstrating continued growth and resilience. One of the bank’s key achievements is double-digit growth (14.4%) of its loan portfolio, which significantly exceeds the estimated real GDP growth for 2023. These figures were mainly boosted by the bank’s above-average penetration into the country’s SME sector. , which accounts for almost 70% of LAFISE’s loan portfolio.

Finally, Banco General returned as Panama’s top bank after an absence that was highly regarded for its digital offering and extensive customer base.

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