Lima, Friday 19 de July del 2024
Book: Assault on Banco Nuevo Mundo
The truth about the persecution of the Levy Family
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The Bank

Creating a bank and succeeding in the attempt is no easy thing to do. The endeavor requires not just money but, most of all, perseverance, honesty and responsibility. But there is an additional ingredient without which the task becomes impossible: Clear rules and a State that remains independent from economic power.

At the beginning of the nineties, Peru lived through a deep economic and political crisis.

President Alan Garcia’s first term in office from 1985 to 1990 had been, to put it in a nutshell, a disaster. When Alberto Fujimori was inaugurated on July 28th, 1990, he found a country in shambles, penniless, regarded as a pariah by the international community and shaken by the Shining Path, a bloody terrorist movement, that was almost on the verge of taking over the national capital.

Peru’s political crisis at the beginning of the nineties was peculiar. On the one hand, political parties traditionally represented in Parliament had been sidelined after President Fujimori’s self-coup of April 5th, 1992. On the other, the country’s economy was crumbling.

Under such circumstances, investing in a bank amounted to taking a huge risk that may compromise even one’s own physical integrity. Despite such state of affairs, my father, with his children’s backing, decided to further bet on Peru.

This was not our first banking experience in Peru. Despite our youth, in fact, Banco Nuevo Mundo was our second bank. In 1981, during the Fernando Belaúnde Terry administration, we organized Banco Latino. This was a very successful bank and in 1984 we sold our 35% share to devote ourselves to building, our main business objective. This was also what we did with Frecuencia Latina (television broadcast station) when in 1985 we sold our 22% share there.

These sales came at the precise right time. In 1987, during his third year in office, Alan García nationalized Peru’s banks holding the country’s entire financial system hostage. Public opinion, however, made him step back from what ultimately proved to be his administration’s greatest political mistake.

But the outlook changed in 1992. Despite the political crisis and terrorism, we saw an opportunity.

In September 1992, after meticulous intelligence work during six months, Abimael Guzmán Reynoso, aka “Camarada Gonzalo”, was captured. He was the founder and supreme leader of the Shining Path. His capture dealt terrorism a powerful psychological blow.

Fujimori, for whom we had not even voted, encouraged private investment. Clear rules of the game created a framework of stability for business. No “influence” or connections within the state apparatus were needed to do business or invest. We felt encouraged to go back into banking.

Established on January 25th, 1993, Banco Nuevo Mundo was characterized from the onset by its professional approach to banking. Our organization was always flat, fast and efficient in decision-making. With a clear, even obsessive, objective to grow, we plowed back all our profits and injected fresh capital that quickly consolidated our corporate position. Agile services and competitive financial spreads lured demand.

A bank is a service organization and, consequently, its biggest asset lies in its people, supported by appropriate systems, procedures and infrastructure. We were always clear about that and, logically, we recruited the best and brightest management talent who were guided by one single motto: professionalism and dedication. Under such principles, we managed to build a team fully committed to organizational development.

Why did we grow? What was the secret? We did not discriminate or have personal preferences. We did not discriminate in granting out loans. Treating all clients equally and a true disposition to serve put us on the right path of growth. By purchasing Banco País we evidenced our intent to move into retail banking and microfinance. Peru had started to put its economy in order and we wanted to join its growth.

Along that line of growth, and with a clear focus on growth and competitiveness, in 1998 we acquired Banco País, a Chilean bank. Banco Nuevo Mundo appeared in the financial skies not only as a strong player but also as a shining star in national banking. Small but efficient, it moved forward smoothly.

Despite the Asian and Russian crises, Banco Nuevo Mundo sailed steadily through the troubled waters. Other major organizations started paying attention to us.

In December 1998, at a bankers’ convention in Washington, senior Bank of America executives shared with us their interest in participating in our growth by purchasing through us other financial organizations. By the end of 1999, in Quito, Ecuador, we arranged with its owners, the purchase of Banco Pichincha, that at the time was Banco Financiero de Lima’s main shareholder.

A year later, Peru’s Companies and Securities Commission (CONASEV) issued a report where it confirmed our financial stability and sound patrimony. After two favorable reports from Apoyo y Asociados Internacionales SAC and Class Asociados risk rating agencies, and a meticulous review of our books that took over one year, we were finally authorized to list in the Lima Stock Exchange.

Acquiring the new bank and listing our stock in the Lima Stock Exchange turned us into a major player in national banking but also, unwittingly, in an uncomfortable competitor for certain powerful groupings. We were graduating up from the ranks of small local banks, and the game and its rules had changed. What to us meant success, to others spelled danger. As we looked at the future with optimism, others did with concern. Thumbs were turned down somewhere and the scene changed abruptly.