2015 marked a year of transformation for the Spanish banking giant. Santander’s new Executive Chairman Ana Botín’s leadership has been defined by a renewed emphasis on customer satisfaction and affinity. “The best bank isn’t necessarily the largest,” she said during a press conference. “Earning the loyalty of our customers, that’s our top priority.” Since taking over for the former Chairman, Ms. Botín has undertaken several initiatives to reposition the brand for the future.
Chief among those is the restructuring of Santander’s top management and board of directors, whom critics said were too aligned with her predecessor’s strategy of acquisition-driven growth. In late 2014, she appointed CFO and confidante José Antonio Álvarez to the position of CEO, and increased the diversity of the board of directors. Botín also cut Santander’s annual dividend from EUR €0.60 to EUR €0.20, signaling a shift toward capital discipline and financial sustainability.
Santander is also deeply committed to innovation in the organization and in the financial sector. Recruiting top tech talent is a priority and critical to helping the company compete against emerging financial start-ups. To promote agility and innovative thinking throughout the organization, some 600 top managers participated in a start-up pitch process. And its innovation fund, InnoVentures, invested GBP £33 million in U.K. mobile payments company Monitise “to drive growth in the mobile money ecosystem.” Santander is even experimenting with bitcoin’s blockchain technology in order to lower infrastructure costs and increase transaction speeds.
Despite the optimism regarding Santander’s newly “Simple, Personal and Fair” corporate culture, it is unclear how large of an impact this will ultimately have on Santander’s future. Shifting the internal culture, strengthening its authenticity among customers, and staying abreast of a rapidly evolving industry will be Santander’s major challenges in the coming year.