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News analysis: Botin positions Santander for further growth

Banco Santander, one of Europe's largest banks which still has strong links to the founding family, announced today that it will acquire 318 branches from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group in a deal worth £1.65 billion.

The deal will give Santander an additional 1.8 million customers in the UK and is expected to be concluded by the end of 2011. 

According to Santander, the agreement is an important step towards strengthening the Spain-based bank's presence in the UK, which is one of its main markets. Chairman Emilio Botin (pictured) said in a statement: "This acquisition is a giant step for Banco Santander in the small and medium-sized enterprises sector in the UK."

The bank appears to have navigated the crisis relatively well and so has managed to benefit from the misfortune of its counterparts by picking up their offloaded assets at cheap prices.

RBS was forced to sell the 318 branches after it was bailed out by the UK government during the credit crisis.

Reports in the Financial Times also link Santander to an acquisition deal with HSBC in the US that would see the Spain-based bank acquire part of HSBC's troubled American consumer finance arm.

While other banks are announcing their first profits since the onset of the financial crisis today, Santnader shows its growth ambition with its third acquisition in as many months.

July saw the bank expand its presence in Germany when it acquired the retail banking business of the SEB Group (continue reading here) and in June the family-controlled bank paid $2.5 billion for the remaining share it did not already own in Santander Mexico. (Continue reading here)

These acquisitions show Santander is not only shoring up its presence in two core European markets, but also looking to increase its hold on a key growth area in Latin America.

Santander is Spain's largest bank with 2009 revenues of €29.4 billion. The Botin family has managed the bank since it was founded in 1857 and despite only owning 2.1%, Emilio Botin is still very much part of the culture and success of the group.

The fourth-generation family head took over the chairmanship from his father in 1986 when Santander was a small, regional bank and built it into the giant it is today. According to those familiar with Santander, staff at the bank show remarkable loyalty to its 75-year-old chairman as they appreciate the family business culture and believe he genuinely cares about the success and reputation of the bank.

With such a pervasive family culture, it is probably safe to speculate that the most obvious successor to Botin is his daughter Ana-Patricia Botin, who currently heads the group's Banesto subsidiary. For now though, the man known to his staff as Don Emilio shows no signs of loosening his grip or slowing the pace of the bank's growth ambitions. 

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