A few years ago, not many, it seemed impossible that the executive presidents of Spanish banks could reduce their executive functions. They were not very willing to do so, and always argued that the country’s regulations allowed it, despite the fact that the supervisors preferred that these functions be shared between the president and the CEO, as is the case in the Anglo-Saxon model. One of the banks that has traditionally had a non-executive president has been Bankinter, or other small family-owned entities. Also some savings banks, when they existed, of course, or credit cooperatives.
Now, even Banco Santander, one of the last or perhaps the penultimate Spanish with predominant executive presidency, has decided to change its statutes to balance power between Ana Botín and the CEO, José Antonio Álvarez. It will be at the meeting on April 1 when its shareholders approve these changes, which theoretically mean that Botín will cede powers to the CEO of the group, although as the bank emphasizes, “Ana Botín will continue to be the first executive” of the group. And few doubt it.
Already before, in 2018, BBVA did the same after the appointment of Carlos Torres as president of the bank to replace Francisco González. In this way, the powers of Torres and those of the CEO, Onur Genç, were balanced. And here it is noticeable.
The same thing happened at Banco Sabadell. On March 26, the shareholders’ meeting of the financial entity approved the termination of the executive functions of Josep Oliu. César González-Bueno, CEO of the bank recently landed in the position, thus became the first executive.
José Ignacio Goirigolzarri’s business card from CaixaBank says executive president, but everyone, and they have all made it very clear, knows that the chief executive of the Spanish banking giant is Gonzalo Gortázar. No doubt.
Only one redoubt remains, Unicaja, which maintains its president, Manuel Azuaga, as chief executive, although, as everyone in the sector knows, it has an expiration date.
Unicaja maintains its transitory plan to have 40% of independent directors in 2023, after the departure of Azuaga
Azuaga will leave the executive presidency no later than July 2023. He will be the last executive president of the institution, and it seems that of the Spanish banking scene. Before, this banker along with the rest of the entity’s board of directors must settle other issues, because governance is not only focused on the executive presidencies. The Bank of Spain, like the ECB, demand a majority of independent directors in the highest governing bodies of the sector, and now Unicaja does not comply.
Within a week, two of his independent directors, Manuel Conthe and Ana Bolado, resigned by surprise, about seven days apart. One of these exits fixed a situation, leaving a free seat on the board so that Mayoral could sit on it, by controlling 8% of Unicaja’s capital. But his position will be that of a Sunday advisor.
Its leadership planned that in the 2023 meeting Azuaga would leave the presidency and his position on the council, to cover himself with an independent, with which 40% of independent seats would be reached again. But Bolado’s departure changed their footing, but only momentarily. On Friday they already announced the appointment of the new independent director, Carolina Martínez-Caro, who will return the balance to the board, despite the fact that it is very tight, since it will mean that 33% of the board is independent, a percentage that the ECB considers scarce. But all the sources consulted assure that the plan planned for 2023 is maintained. It will be then when its leadership adapts to the recommendations of the supervisors. What is not known is whether the ECB prefers that everything speed up now.
Whether now or in July 2023, the truth is that the supervisors have achieved their goal. CEOs, as few as possible, and if none, the better. Although in order not to be radical, for a while they will allow the presidency and the position of CEO to have similar powers so that they are not branded as radical.
When Pablo Hernández de Cos was appointed Governor of the Bank of Spain in June 2018, he set several objectives for the financial sector, and one of them was to end these executive presidencies, and he has achieved it. As with the rest of his plans, although he may have liked some more fusion process.
He would also have liked Ibercaja to be listed, but this has not been possible so far, and today it is not only understandable, but also convenient.
Another issue that began a little over a month ago, but which has quickly sought a solution that has convinced the sector and customers, is that relating to personalized attention for the elderly in banking. No sooner said than done. The sector, together with the Government, have managed to speed up the signing of a protocol to serve the most vulnerable customers in the face of the digitization of banking. The problem is that it is not known if the current workforce in the sector will be enough to attend to this group as established by the protocol.
For now, the protests by the unions have begun. And that was known. It was a matter of days after the signing of the service protocol for customers over 65 years of age. Will it happen that in the end the bank will have to rehire staff? You never know. For the time being, CaixaBank has hired 1,350 temporary workers to strengthen service at the branches for older customers and those from the former Bankia as part of its program to combat financial exclusion.
Well, and here we have come. I say goodbye to everyone who has been reading me more or less regularly for so many years, many. Thank you, it has been a pleasure. I will miss you, I assure you.