Thursday 28th January 2021
The Alliance welcomed Banco Regional from Paraguay, the top-ranking bank in the agribusiness sector with a 62% market share. As a universal bank, Banco Regional is focused on financially empowering underserved segments, leveraging digital banking services to promote financial inclusion and promoting the economic development of the country. The bank has a strong commitment to gender equality inside and outside the institution. The Alliance interviewed Laura Borsato, Chief Executive Officer, about the barriers women face in accessing financial services in Paraguay and Banco Regional’s role in closing them.
Alliance: In order to provide context for our global readers, can you tell us about the market position of Banco Regional in Paraguay and the organization’s overall strategic vision?
Laura Borsato: Banco Regional is a benchmark in the agribusiness sector, ranking first in the sector with a 62-percent market share, and second in terms of overall loans, with a 13-percent market share. Originally, the bank was established with the aim of actively supporting the productive sector, and we are proud to continue doing so. Throughout the years, we have focused on being the main actor in the development of the country and our clients. By combining tradition and expanding our focus, we have become a universal bank, offering products and services to all consumer segments under the concept of a successful omnichannel service model.
Alliance: With more than 17 banks and financial service companies in Paraguay, what makes Banco Regional stand out in the market?
LB: As a universal bank that has a strong commitment to the development of our country and clients, we have made an undeniable difference by being present at key moments and providing timely products and services adapted to each sector. We believe that it is crucial to deliver a timely supply of products and services that are adapted to each sector, and we are convinced that this has undoubtedly been our main competitive advantage in our market.
Alliance: Banco Regional is strongly committed to supporting Paraguay’s agricultural sector. What is the role of women in this sector? What main barriers do you face?
LB: Given the fact that Paraguay is a primarily agricultural country, with more than 70 percent of the economy directly or indirectly dependent on agricultural commodities; Banco Regional was created to actively support this sector. In line with this commitment, in 2008 it welcomed the Dutch Bank Rabobank as a shareholder. As a result, the strategic vision of supporting all sectors was also strengthened.
Banco Regional maintains a balanced portfolio in terms of gender participation. Women have been actively involved, currently representing 31% of its portfolio. However, in our country, women still face a number of social challenges to be able to achieve economic independence.
The main barrier is related to social stereotypes that affect access to education and the resulting consequences, both in the medium and long term.
Alliance: Paraguay ranks fairly low in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report (104 out of 149 countries), with significant gaps in terms of economic opportunities and women’s participation. What are the key factors that have led to these gaps?
LB: In line with what I said before, in Paraguay and in several Latin American countries, the main gap arises as a result of social traditions and behaviors that have created barriers to women’s access and development.
In Paraguay, the main barrier is access to education. According to research published in 2020 by the Observatorio Educativo Ciudadano [Citizen Educational Observatory], a program devoted to reporting, analyzing and spreading information regarding educational reality, there is a considerable gap in terms of school dropout rates for women (22 percent) compared to men (4.7 percent). There are also other limiting factors that affect this situation on a lesser degree.
Thus, there is less participation in the labor market, leading to inactivity, unemployment, underemployment, income gaps and occupational segregation. All of this limits the possibilities for women’s full economic independence.
Alliance: According to Global Findex, 54 percent of women do not have access to financial services. What kinds of barriers do women in Paraguay face in accessing financial services? What changes have been instrumental for them?
LB: In Paraguay, social behaviors and traditions appear to be the main barriers. As in previous decades, people have not considered women in their role as producers, entrepreneurs and leaders. This still goes on today, but at a lesser extent, and gives rise to huge challenges for empowerment.
In recent years, the main local agents of change have been the strengthening of public and private organizations that provide active support to women, enabling education, professional training, and access to financing.
Alliance: How are you segmenting the market for women? What is your value proposition of financial and non-financial services for each segment, current or planned?
LB: At Banco Regional, we are focused and convinced that female empowerment is the way. We aim to promote and offer participation in activities that allow us to champion, celebrate and support the women that make up the bank’s family, whether they are clients, providers or employees.
Alliance: In Paraguay, 28.4 percent of people use digital banking services compared to 11.1 percent in the LAC region, according to the 2018 Data Book on Financial Inclusion. How do Banco Regional’s digital banking services ensure that more people, and women in particular, have access to the financial system?
LB: Digital banking plays a leading role in promoting financial inclusion. Not only does it encourage the daily and accessible use of banking transactions, but it also promotes the optimization of time, especially for women who play different roles simultaneously in today’s society. This requires us to constantly innovate to provide more and better services. Digital banking serves as a channel to promote inclusion, generate business and improve the experience between the entity and the client.
Alliance: During the CEO Roundtable that precedes the Alliance’s Annual Summit, we discussed the impact of the pandemic in accelerating the digitization process of many of the financial services and the increased demand for such services. What kinds of adaptations have you had to implement as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and what has been their impact on women in particular? What key lessons have you learned?
LB: One of the positive things to highlight is that various business sectors have adapted to the digitization process especially during this year of pandemic. This has opened new markets, improved the relationship with customers, optimized costs and helped improve the quality of services.
Businesses and individuals had to adjust to the new normal. Also, trends in telecommuting, which are part of this digitization, are positive emerging elements that are here to stay and change the way we do business and interact with customers. Far from slowing down decisions, this process has streamlined and made organizations more productive. Obviously, there is a strong resistance to change in this regard, especially in sectors that still see digital transformation as a cost and not as an investment. But the pandemic forced them to adapt, and in the process, many have learned about the innumerable benefits and possibilities offered by the digitalization process, such as opening new markets, improving the relationship with clients, saving costs or improving and innovating service quality.
Alliance: Can you tell us about your overall internal diversity and inclusion strategy? What is your vision on that front going forward? Do you have initiatives to get more women into leadership positions at the bank?
LB: At Banco Regional we have always valued the empowerment of women in leadership positions. Currently, the female representation in senior management is 40 percent, and 31 percent in supervisor positions. The fact that the bank’s general manager is a woman is evidence of the bank’s commitment to putting women in leadership positions.
At Regional, women have equal opportunities for the development of their professional careers, as well as their personal development.
Alliance: As a female CEO and industry leader, what advice would you give women seeking to advance their careers within the financial industry?
LB: As women, we have a transformative, horizontal, transparent, and very empathetic style of leadership, which is undoubtedly essential nowadays, since we often face issues affecting employees’ personal lives. Women should promote their careers based on these characteristics combined, of course, with a results-oriented understanding of the business.
Alliance: How did you hear about the Financial Alliance for Women and why did you decide to join?
LB: Through OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation), a financial institution associated with Banco Regional.
Banco Regional decided to join the Financial Alliance for Women because we are an institution focused on providing long-term support to different sectors. Establishing networks that allow us to share spaces for intercultural conversations, development and experiences is key to be able to empower women through the different strategies that the bank develops.