Super-sizing Santander

An unveiling ceremony in Manhattan’s Herald Square this week gave New Yorkers a first view of a gaudy red sign that bears the name of a financial services powerhouse.

It says, simply, ‘Santander’.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was there with Emilio Botin, Chairman of the Santander Group. It was an important occasion for Santander. Similar ceremonies took place in Boston, Philadelphia, Providence and Wyomissing, PA.

It marks it the end of Boston’s Sovereign Bank, acquired by Santander four years ago and, more significantly, the beginning of Santander’s presence in the US market. The red sign will soon go up above 700 branches of what was Sovereign Bank network in nine states in the northeast.

Goodbye Sovereign
Goodbye Sovereign

The global brand hegemony of the Spanish banking group is impressive to behold.

Those oddly anonymous strips of red actually bear the name of a wet, nondescript port city on the northern coast of Spain. Santander is derived from the name of a 3rd century Catholic martyr, Saint Emeterio. Over time it became Santemter, then Santenter and finally Santander (see Namedroppings).

The bank’s history begins in 1857, when Queen Isabel II signed a royal decree authorizing the founding of Banco Santander to capitalize on the trade boom between Spain and Latin America.

A huge acquisition spree has, quite literally, put Santander on the global map. Today it is the largest bank in the Eurozone by market value and one of the largest banks in the world in terms of market capitalization with 186,000 employees, 102 million customers and 14,392 branches worldwide.

In the UK those bright red signs have spread like kudzu on every high street in the land over the last decade. Santander snapped up several of Britain’s most prominent building societies, including Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley, quickly building up a national network of more than 1,300 retail branches, each of which slot in cheerily between the local Waitrose supermarket and Thorntons candy store.

Not Bank of America
Not Bank of America

The virtue of the Santander name is in its very blandness. Pronounced ‘san-tan-DAIR’ (although it will probably become better known in the US as ‘SAN-tanda’) it could be anything. It certainly doesn’t sound like a bank. And after the financial turmoil of the last recession and the bailouts that’s a good thing. People are still wary of big banks.

Santander’s rise is the Darwinian way, especially in financial services. Brands ebb and flow like corks on the economic tide. In the US, financial giants Merrill Lynch, Wachovia and Washington Mutual, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were swept away in the last recession.

If the UK is anything to go by Sovereign Bank will be just the first of several Santander acquisitions in the US on its way to prominence. It’s unflashy brand rooted in resolute consistency and customer focus has all the hallmarks of that other retailing giant that got the basics right.

Santander has the global scale, resources and corporate ambition to become the McDonalds of retail banking.

References:

Top 25 US bank changes its name to Santander today

Sovereign Bank Starts Over as Santander

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