The Alliance recently welcomed Banco Santander Argentina. With more than 3.5 million clients, of which 1.5 million are women, and a market share of 7.4% Santander Argentina is the third largest bank in the country. The Alliance spoke with Silvia Tenazinha, Chief Commercial Banking Manager and Verónica Climent, Senior Manager of People, Cost, Real Estate and Security, about women’s financial inclusion in Argentina, the bank’s new Santander Women program, and the efforts that both Santander Argentina and Santander Global are making to support all women in the country and globally.
Alliance: What is the current situation of women in Argentina? What changes have been catalytic for them?
ST: The role of women in Argentina is very prescribed and we want to break the stereotypes that are holding them back. 63 percent of university graduates in the country are women, however women make up at most 30 percent of decision-making roles across companies (CIPPEC). This implies a huge loss of “know how” and defies their performance in education with many of them getting their degrees 1-2 years earlier as well as doing so with better grades than men. It is essential for us to work to close this gap.
While the changes that we have experienced recently in Argentina have been driven by public policies, the private sector is beginning to understand that this is not just a social issue but also an economic one. We’re seeing a shift in mindsets of senior level managers, and as more women continue to access middle and high management, we will continue to catalyze the changes that are needed.
Alliance: What types of barriers do women in Argentina face in accessing financial services?
ST: One of the key barriers is the lack of economic independence with many women still financially dependent on men. This is based in our culture, which is still traditional in many ways with people still believing that there is a trade-off between family and work. We believe that the private sector has a primary role in promoting gender equity policies and that financial education and financial inclusion can support women in gaining financial independence.
Alliance: Why did you decide to create a differentiated offering for women?
ST: Our program is based on two complementary factors: the first is that it makes good business sense – 80 percent of purchasing decisions are made by women. We see that gender-equal businesses are more profitable. Women exhibit more solid financial behavior: they pay pack loans at a better rate, and from insurance perspective have lower casualty rates. The second theme is equity and financial inclusion – based on the notion that equity is the foundation of a healthy society. This is not a fad. For us, it is the basis for growth of society.
Alliance: What is Santander Women’s main offering?
ST: We launched the program Santander Women a year ago and more than 200,000 women have registered since then. The program is based on 4 pillars:
Alliance: Santander Women has focuses across all segments. Why did you decide to target all segments?
ST: It was impossible for us to target only one segment. We believe that if we seriously want to support gender issues, we have to do so for all women. Given the different needs that specific segments of women have, we created tailored offers for each. For example, for professionals we provide training focused on business and career development, for entrepreneurs we feature topics such as marketing, how to export, how to get suppliers, etc. We are also developing a marketplace through our Loyalty program so that women entrepreneurs can promote their products to the rest of our clients; for the base of the pyramid we provide basic financial inclusion information.
Alliance: What is your vision of the program for the future?
ST: We currently have 3.5 million total clients, of which 1.5 million are women. Of these, 15% are part of our Women’s program. My goal is for all of our women clients to be able to access all the pillars of the program. But growth is also an important goal. This year we have very ambitious goals, which include attracting 500,000 new clients of which half are women. Through our differentiated Santander Women offering we have been able to provide more value not only to our existing clients but also to new ones. I have personally heard from businesswomen that although they had all their banking services set up in another bank, due to the value we provide as part of the program, they migrated their entire business to Santander.
Alliance: Santander corporate also has a growing focus on women. What kinds of initiatives have been organized?
VC: Diversity is a cross-cutting theme across Santander’s strategy. When establishing the diversity and inclusion strategy, one of the priority areas was gender. We established annual global KPIs, for example, all countries have set a goal of a minimum of 30 percent of leadership positions held by women in leadership positions and goals for narrowing the wage gap. Policies for the entire Santander group have also been established including, for example, 4-week maternity leave and a minimum of 30 flexible days for the second guardian (father or equal marriage). Finally, each country participates in a gender diversity global network to share ideas and practices.
ST: Externally, we are also working together with other Latin American countries such as Uruguay and Chile to share ideas and experiences. Each country’s initiatives are based on the needs and level of development of their particular market.
Alliance: Santander Argentina also has an important focus on diversity and inclusion. Why is this important to the development of the Santander Women program?
VC: We could not be effective with our clients if diversity was not part of our DNA. We work together on diversity through a collaborative relationship between our commercial banking and talent units. For example, when we launched the Women’s program, we complemented it by an announcement of a change in the leave policy for employees who are adoptive parents and couples, extending the leave to 30 days.
Alliance: How well are women represented at Santander Argentina and what kinds of diversity and inclusion initiatives have you developed internally?
VC: Currently women make up 51 percent of total employees, 18 percent of senior managers, and 27 percent of the board. We still have work to do in the middle management levels to help more women reach senior level positions. This is the second year in a row that we have set diversity goals. We set these goals by area, as not all units have the same reality.
Regarding initiatives, this year we focused on organizational culture, including workshops to identify and train around unconscious bias. We also launched a diversity network, made up of women and men from different areas of the bank. Finally, we launched a very successful social media campaign on March 8 as part of International Women’s Day #EachforEqual in which we featured several senior women from the bank who were breaking stereotypes.
Alliance: The proportion of women in management positions in publicly traded Argentine companies is 10% (CNV). What barriers are preventing women from getting to the top and what can be done to overcome them?
VC: The first barrier is in ourselves. We have to break down those myths that are started early on in our upbringing and build our confidence. This includes issues of unconscious bias and creating awareness about them. The second barrier is the lack of women’s visibility. Our efforts have increased on this to ensure there is a quota of women representing the company in different areas such as conferences or corporate meetings. The last barrier is knowledge and for this we have to ensure that all training has a gender lens.
Alliance: As women leaders in the sector, what recommendations would you like to provide to women trying to advance their careers within the financial sector?
VC: It is important to take time to get to know ourselves, to know that no one else can set us limits. It is also important to develop networks, given the multiple life-stages that women have, whether they are mothers, professionals, consumers, etc. – a network that gives you security and supports you in difficult times.
ST: Be authentic. It is something that we must not lose. Many women want to adapt to male characteristics – it is important to be yourself. The second is to be encouraged and not set yourself limits.
Alliance: What kind of adaptations have you had to implement as a result of the Covid crisis and what has been it’s impact on women in particular? What have been the key learnings?
VC: More than 80% of our employees have been working completely remotely from the beginning of the quarantine and without impacting our ability to operate daily, while branches are operating with partial openings, providing the services authorized by the Central Bank, and always looking for a way to help our clients, both individuals and companies. Our contact center operates 100% remotely. Going forward, at least for a long time, we see that more people will work from home. Our challenge will be to continue adapting to these changes, taking advantage of the key learnings: More work-life balance, more efficient use of technology and, as always, being close to our customers.
We have also seen increases in the levels of domestic violence all over the world and have adapted our internal protocols on gender violence as a result. We now offer a hot line to psychologists and another for legal advice. We could not have done this without the trust and close relationships that the bank’s health team has with employees.
ST: We launched several very specific campaigns targeting health care workers. We have more than 200,000 clients that are doctors, nurses, etc. that are being directly affected by the pandemic. We launched tailored benefits and a special concierge to support reties in their operations with the bank.
Alliance: How did you hear about the Financial Alliance for Women? Why did you decide to join the Alliance?
ST: I participated in a bank conference where I talked to several member banks and the IFC and they told me about the organization. I returned to Buenos Aires and we began our journey. We still have a lot to learn but also a lot to share.
SANTANDER ARGENTINA AT A GLANCE (as of February 2020)
# of employees: 8,000
% of female employees: 51.4%
# of customers: 3.5 million
% of women clients: 44%
Loan portfolio: US$ 2.4 billion
Loan portfolio (to women): US$ 732 million
Deposits: US$ 3.9 billion
Deposits (held by women): US$ 1.2 billion