Overview

Angel Santodomingo Martell was expecting 2020 to be tough. He didn’t know it would be this tough.

Speaking to II, the bank executive recalled how Banco Santander Brasil, where he has served as chief financial officer since 2014, had began to position itself more conservatively last fall.

“Back in September last year, we publicly said that we saw pockets in the economy — we thought we should stay back a bit,” he said. “We wanted to control risk. Obviously, we didn’t know about Covid-19.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were more than 5.4 million documented cases of Covid-19 globally, according to the World Health Organization, including over 363,000 in Brazil. The Latin American country has in recent weeks emerged as one of the latest hot spots for the contagious and potentially fatal disease, with the number of reported cases growing rapidly over the month of May.

Across Latin America, executives from sectors ranging from financial services to construction report major disruptions to their businesses and an urgent need to adapt to a world that will likely be permanently altered by the coronavirus pandemic. In Mexico, for example, construction materials company CEMEX has instituted a number of new protocols to ensure proper social distancing and hygiene among workers, including launching an app for employees to self-report any health symptoms they may be experiencing.

Back in Brazil, electricity provider ENGIE Brasil Energia has had to figure out how to literally keep the lights on as the country’s largest electricity producers. “As a company that provides an essential service, we have implemented a series of initiatives to offer the necessary protection to our employees and the continuity of our activities, in line with the recommendations of health agencies,” Eduardo Sattamini, the utility company’s CEO, said by email.

Banco Santander has similarly sought to keep money flowing through the economy in a time when businesses and individuals need it most. “We have moved from ten years ago with banks being the problem to now banks being the solution,” Martell says. “And that is an important way of looking at the bank sector as what we should be, which is a provider for the economy to be able to grow.”

Click here to read about how Martell and other top-ranking members of II’s Latin America Executive Team have responded to the coronavirus pandemic — and what the world will look like afterwards.