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New Member Spotlight: Banistmo

Thursday 30th June 2016

John Rozo of BanistmoBanistmo is the second largest bank in Panama and is part of Bancolombia, one of the leading Latin American bank conglomerates. It is also the only Panamanian commercial bank that is led by a woman CEO. The Alliance spoke with John Rozo, Vice-President of Personal and SME Banking, about Banistmo’s experiences in the Panamanian market, his objectives for the new Women’s Market program, and their expectations in becoming a GBA member.

GBA: Why did you decide to develop a program that specifically targets women?

John Rozo: Our guiding principles as a bank go beyond profitability and growth, and are based on the idea of transforming the lives of people, families and businesses. We seek to be a different kind of bank – one that is more human and looks to be closer to our customers. When we as staff members put these principles above all other things, we generate a different dynamic at the bank.

We focus on the client as our driving force, highlighting values like warmth, closeness, respect and inclusion. Our gender focus is incorporated across the entire organization under this last value of inclusion, and this is where the interest in developing a program to support women entrepreneurs arose.

In the bank, we prioritize the empowerment of our staff, and the topic of women’s empowerment is also closely linked to this idea. We seek to find the right instruments to empower women and support them in making decisions so that they can become the masters of their own destiny.

GBA: When you started looking into the Women’s Market in Panama, what trends did you find in terms of women’s role in the economy, both as business owners and as employees?

John Rozo: Women in Panama represent more than 49 percent of the total population, which makes you think about their potential and strength within the country’s economy – especially as a target market for a bank. We also see that women are a powerful economic growth market.

Looking within our own ecosystem, 65 percent of bank staff members are women. On my team, women represent more than 70 percent of the staff. So when one looks at the country demographic statistics as well as the GDP growth, you see that women are a powerful force within the country.

GBA: Panama ranks fairly high in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap report (No. 44), yet the country still sees significant gaps in both women’s economic and political participation. How has the country closed some of its gender gaps, and where are some areas it still has to improve?

John Rozo: Although gender equality has been improving recently in Panama, we still see inequality at different levels, and there is much work that needs to be done. Men have a higher participation rate in political and economic spheres, but 18 percent of Panama’s National Assembly is made up of women. This shows the significant progress we have made around gender inclusion in government. In regard to the economy, women’s participation is also beginning to increase. We see that 40.43 percent of the economically active population are women, and we have a woman as our CEO – leading the second largest bank in the country. This is a milestone for Panamanian banks because she is the first and only woman to lead a bank in Panama.

In terms of women’s economic participation, we still see salary gaps as well as differences in access to senior positions. In entrepreneurship, there are gaps in terms of financial education and business skills, as well as the ability to make business decisions independently – without obtaining the approval of a husband or father. Furthermore, the IDB has estimated that 70 percent of women-owned MSMEs in Panama are informal, and we see a great role for us in helping to formalize them. As a bank committed to the communities we have a presence in, we are developing strategies aimed at providing knowledge through training programs for women entrepreneurs and women-owned enterprises, and support them in their growth.Banistmo Logo

GBA: According to the IFC Enterprise Surveys, 44 percent of Panamanian MSMEs are women owned, but only 4 percent access financial services to meet their working capital needs. Why do you think there is such a gap? 

John Rozo: One of the key points that I think affects women’s lack of access to credit is that many entrepreneurs and business owners fail to formalize their ideas and businesses, so they do not meet the credit policies of banks and therefore cannot gain access to credit to achieve growth of their projects. Our aim is to generate and participate in programs that help these women entrepreneurs and businesswomen build their capacity at all levels and enable them to formalize their businesses and gain access to the working capital they need.

Throughout Latin America, including Panama, we unfortunately still see elements of a “machista” culture that continues to hold women back. Traditionally, men have dominated most business areas, including small businesses. This has helped lead to a situation where women can be entrepreneurs, but they are not necessarily making independent financial decisions. The role of women as key decision makers and as business owners is something that has developed only recently, but on a positive note, we do see that women are starting to gain ground in starting more businesses.

Seeing these trends in the market, we recognize a clear opportunity to have women identify with Banistmo as a bank that supports them through every step of their business journeys.

GBA: What goals have you set for your Women’s Market program?

John Rozo: As I mentioned, our program arose from our financial group’s guiding principle to positively transform society and improve people’s lives. We are going to do this through fostering women’s financial, emotional and social well-being.

More specifically, we are focusing on supporting women entrepreneurs by giving them the tools they need for their development, including advisory services, financial education, mentoring programs and entrepreneurship promotion programs.

GBA BanistmoGBA: You have developed strategic alliances with a number of leading regional and international partners before launching your program, including the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Vital Voices, the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), and GBA. Can you tell us more about your strategic vision in working with these partners?

John Rozo: As a bank, we believe we can contribute to the improvement of women’s economic well-being in a number of ways, but to be able to really effect change at a national level and beyond, we need to collaborate with others. We believe that we need to join forces at different levels – working with government, with private-interest foundations, with the private sector and with academics. Each actor is starting to take small steps, but if we all join forces and work toward the same goal, we can go much farther.

When we started researching this topic, we realized that there were a lot of organizations in Panama that were approaching different areas with a gender lens. We found, for instance, capacity-building and emotional education programs that had experience in working with women entrepreneurs, and since this is not our area of expertise, we decided to collaborate with them. However, we do envision developing programs of our own in areas where we have the skills and experience.

We also see strategic alliances as a way of accelerating results. For instance, working with partners like the “entrepreneurs channel,” a nonprofit organization that helps to fully incorporate women into social and economic development in Panama by encouraging entrepreneurship, will help us accomplish this goal much more quickly.

GBA: How did you find out about the Global Banking Alliance for Women? What inspired you to join?

John Rozo: We heard about the GBA through a conversation with the IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF). I asked my team to find out more, and we decided to become members as part of developing a network of strategic alliances that support and leverage our work for women.

GBA: What specifically are your hopes for your new membership in the Alliance?

John Rozo: When we started researching gender, we realized that it is a very complex topic, and implementing a Women’s Market program is not a simple matter. I would like GBA to help us along this process and to enable us to avoid missteps. I also want to leverage best practices, experiences, recommendations and research from our peers to accelerate our work. I would like to be able to use GBA as a platform to gain more networking opportunities within and beyond Panama. We also think that internally we will be able to leverage GBA members’ experiences to generate more interest and buy-in from our staff.