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Most Impressive Bank for Latin American Bonds: Santander Corporate & Investment Banking

A combination of local presence and global knowledge has long helped Santander Corporate & Investment Banking keep a leading position in Latin America debt capital markets — where it has been  in the top five for many  years. Santander is now focused on filling out its platform in more of the region’s countries, while its global strengths in environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters and project and infrastructure finance are helping it deliver for the new challenges its clients are facing.

Santander’s footprint in Latin America is considered second to none, with its commercial banking strengths in the large markets of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay acting as the anchor for its capital markets activity. On top of that though it has a global team. Its syndicate and debt capital markets coverage operations are in New York alongside ratings advisory and liability management platforms, and it has a global sales force in New York, London, Madrid and elsewhere in Europe and Asia, but critically, also in Latin America.

“The difference is that we don’t just have a global presence, we’re really on the ground in all the main markets in Latin America,” says Cristina Schulman, head of Latin America debt capital markets for Santander CIB in New York. “It’s important for clients to know that Santander’s strategy for Lat Am is for the long term and we have significant capital invested in these countries.”

In recent years, Santander CIB has been working to expand further in the region. Countries where it had a smaller commercial banking presence — notably Colombia and Peru, as well as Paraguay, Central America and the Caribbean — now account for around 30% of capital markets activity. “This is our priority,” says Schulman, “To grow and to increase our position, we need to cover the whole continent.

The strategy is bearing fruit. In the last year, according to GlobalCapital analysis, the firm worked as bookrunner for the first time in the international markets for sovereign deals from Colombia, Paraguay and El Salvador, while also working more often on Peru-based transactions.

The Paraguay bond, a $1bn 11 year transaction through four joint bookrunners including Santander CIB, was one of the first from a Lat Am sovereign to specifically finance measures responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The broader response across Latin America to the crisis is also spurring ever greater interest in ESG-themed capital markets issuance, says Schulman. “I think that the Covid pandemic has led to a lot more focus on ESG in the region,” she says. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in the dialogue we’re having with issuers.”

The Lat Am team can draw on Santander’s global ESG platform, while Schulman’s DCM team in New York now has dedicated ESG advisory bankers working with clients. The bank has been involved in several notable transactions including the recent revival of sustainability-linked bonds in international markets, while Schulman says there is also growing interest in green bonds, particularly in the field of renewables, in the bigger local markets of Brazil and Mexico.

Local markets are also a point that differentiates Santander CIB from its US bulge bracket competitors in Latin American debt capital markets. “We’re active in the local markets in all our core countries, as in local currency bonds across the region,” says Schulman. 

It’s a part of the business that is only going to grow as more countries start taking the de-dollarisation of their debt more seriously and start to follow countries such as Peru in creating international demand for their local currency deals. 

Another market that is central to Santander CIB’s push in Lat Am capital markets is project bonds, where it is leveraging its top rated global project finance and infrastructure business to work on the region’s most important deals. “As a number of countries develop infrastructure frameworks, the capital markets will be a big funding tool for activity,” she says. “We see it as an important trend.”