Views from FELABAN 2012: Oscar Rivera, FELABAN

World Finance interviews Oscar Rivera, President of FELABAN, on the conference floor of FELABAN 2012 in Lima

December 20, 2012

FELABAN is the largest conference of senior Latin American bankers outside the IMF meetings, and this year marks the 46th annual assembly. World Finance speaks to Oscar Rivera, who resigned as President of FELABAN at this year’s assembly. He discusses the organisation’s mission in furthering financial inclusion, the impact that Basel III and other north hemisphere -focused regulations will have on Latin America, and the goals of the Federation in the future.

World Finance: Financial inclusion is one of your key objectives at FELABAN; what’s the best way to develop these eMoney and financial education programmes on the continent?

Oscar Rivera: At FELABAN, we are indeed concerned about this matter: financial inclusion, and training our people up – i.e. financial education. This is because people on our continent are largely unaware of what is offered by the financial segment and the security that there is.

Therefore, this would mean that consumers would be much better informed about the products they could take advantage of. Basically, small and medium enterprises are sometimes unaware of all the financial products available which would make their lives much easier and make their transactions much simpler.

For example, with suppliers of products to supermarkets, payments are made within 90 days; factoring offered by BAN of the financial system would take the burden off their budgets, and they would have more liquid investments, rather than having to deal with the hindrance caused by 90 day payments. This goes on around the world: delayed payments being made by supermarkets.

“I do not think there is excessive regulation; I think that was the Fed’s big mistake: believing there was”

What do you think the lasting impact of Basel III will be on the continent?

Oscar Rivera: The impact on the continent – on the southern part of the continent – is a more robust economy, liquidity and strength. This is thanks to the economic policies that have been implemented in recent years by governments, which have maintained an interest in managing monetary policy, export policy and regulation in general.

This is precisely where regulation failed during the 2008 crisis in the US and now Europe: the regulators failed to fulfil their obligations.

World Finance: Is there a danger of excessive regulation leading to a reduction in lending?

Oscar Rivera: No, I do not think there is excessive regulation; I think that was the Fed’s big mistake: believing there was. There was too much deregulation, then it collapses. Instead of deregulation, it ended up becoming total liberalism.

Was there regulation? Yes, in the commercial banking sector there was, but not in the financial sector. The same is happening in Europe: there is lack of regulation to such an extend that at this point the EU said: “Let’s get rid of regulators and just share one single regulator.” I think it’s a slap on the wrist to European regulators, telling them, “You did not fulfil your purpose.”

We do have our concerns, however. Thanks to Basel, there may be over-regulation based on the problems of the northern hemisphere, which are totally unrelated to the problems of the southern hemisphere. Let me explain: the northern hemisphere is required by Basel to meet certain minimum capital requirements in 2019. These minimum capital requirements were fully achieved and exceeded in Latin America two years ago.

So, it’s clear that you cannot regulate… It’s just like within a family. You treat a badly-behaved son differently from a well-behaved son. The former needs more discipline; the latter can be given more freedom. The same goes for the economy, doesn’t it? They shouldn’t be treated the same.

“Basel III is based on the problems of the northern hemisphere, which are totally unrelated to the problems of the southern hemisphere”

World Finance: Now, commodities exports from Latin America have soared while domestic production has slowed. Is there a need to diversify?

Oscar Rivera: As regards domestic production, I think that what has been very useful during this period was that when the European and American markets in general shut down, there was a great response from the local markets. It is these local markets that have maintained the emergence of Latin American economies.

On the one hand, the socio-economic level has increased; the middle class has expanded compared with eight to 10 years ago. But in turn, trade has increased between the countries, which had not happened for years.

This idea can be personified by a football star. Latin American players are very skilful! Basically, I think that entrepreneurs from small and micro enterprises on our continent have worked hard so that they can adapt to different products, and they have achieved a much more substantial development.

World Finance: Finally, what does FELABAN want to achieve in the next five years?

Indeed, FELABAN aims to tackle the issue of financial education and to achieve greater financial inclusion. On average, in Latin America, there is financial inclusion among 50 percent of our population. But for countries such as Peru – my home country – only 30 percent of the population has contact with the financial segment. Therefore, this means making many people creditworthy who are currently not eligible for credit.

And a link that is being observed at the moment in South America is transactions carried out via mobile phones. There are more mobile phones than inhabitants: in a country of 30 million people, there are 35 million mobile phones. This is an important step, but it must be controlled by the Superintendency of Banking [the Peruvian regulator], and in turn, via a merger with the financial institutions.

I must reiterate that I’m not referring just to banks, but to financial institutions in general. Why? Because if this is not regulated, we will be faced with another major issue: money laundering. And if there is no regulation of money laundering… well, we have had bitter experiences of this in Latin America.

World Finance: Oscar Rivera, thank you.

Oscar Rivera: Thank you. We’re very glad to have you in Peru and at FELABAN. Thank you very much.