Santander seeks to develop its activity in the United States as a regional powerhouse but not as a mega-bank

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Pierre P. Habis already has two acquisitions to his credit and a mission to become a regional banking power within two years in his position as senior executive vice president at Santander.

Habis moved to Santander SAN,
+1.31%
in 2020 after leading the consumer banking unit of MUFG Union Bank. Now he runs Santander’s US consumer and business units from the bank’s Boston office.

An adjustment during Habis’ tenure so far is the recognition that Santander may be a global retail bank, but in reality in the United States it is a small regional bank in the northeast.

“We’re not going to be the bank for everyone,” Habis told MarketWatch. “There is a niche game that can be more distinctive and finding what I call the invisible middle is the win / win for us.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made consumers much more focused on online banking, he said.

“Everything that is happening around us now was happening before the pandemic – it just accelerated,” Habis said. “The embrace of different ways of doing your banking – the acceptance of that has really, really changed. “

The bank is also looking beyond a confrontation with regulators that ended in late 2020 with a civil fine of $ 4.75 million from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The office issued a consent order and ruled that the bank provided loan data to consumer reporting agencies under its unsecured auto loans and leases in a manner that could have adversely affected consumers’ credit ratings and access to credit.

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Habis said Santander has been able to put these challenges in the mirror and make two successful external acquisitions: The bank completed its acquisition of Miami-based Indosuez Wealth Management from seller Crédit Agricole with the aim of ‘add $ 4.3 billion in customer assets. and liabilities. It is also buying New York-based fixed income broker Amherst Pierpont Securities for $ 600 million to add Santander Corporate & Investment Banking (Santander CIB) to its business. In a third transaction involving its internal business units, Santander Holdings USA Inc. (SHUSA) purchases the share of Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc. SC,
-0.17%
which he does not already own for $ 41.50 per share in a transaction expected to close by year-end.

“We are in a very different position than we were two, three or four years ago,” said Habis. “We are always trying to do the right things from a regulatory and customer perspective. “

Auto loans remain a positive point for Santander amid strong demand for new and used cars.

“There are synergies and natural resources between Santander Bank and Santander Consumer’s automotive business that we have been able to leverage for Santander Bank consumers,” Habis said.

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Habis said he remained focused on working with small businesses after the bank participated in the PPP loan program during the pandemic.

“I still haven’t seen the health of small businesses come back,” Habis said. “You’ve seen consumer spending come back and businesses go digital, but small businesses continue to recover. “

As 2021 draws to a close, Habis said he was focusing on investing in Santander’s online presence and growth in its existing markets on the east coast.

“I’m not as excited about acquiring banks as I am about expanding our digital offering and complementing it with some level of physical presence, ultimately leading to a more modern bank, which is a hybrid business run by the digital, ”he said.


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