Luis Alberto Cárdenas Diaz – Banco Sabadell
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Diana Carrillo
- Est. reading time: 5 mins
When it came to helping the new kid on the block get a start, Luis Alberto Cárdenas was there.
Cárdenas, Banco Sabadell’s legal director for its Mexican operations, was also the first hire for the bank’s legal department when it started in 2015. Since then, his team has grown to 13, but he clearly recalls the fledgling days when Spain-based Banco Sabadell arrived in Mexico as a new banking entity.
“I can’t recall the last bank created organically in Mexico with the purpose of appealing to the general public with new retail and commercial products,” Cárdenas says. “I believed in the project from the start. My biggest challenge has been to assist in its realization and growth.”
New kid brings new methods
It’s not just that Banco Sabadell expanded its global operations into Mexico without merging or acquiring another bank, as foreign banks usually do, Cárdenas notes, it is also about how it operates its corporate, commercial and retail business.
“The bank does not have any branches,” Cárdenas explains. “We only have around 12 offices, but these are not branches in the strict sense of the word as they are not intended to serve clients directly, but to coordinate our regional operations.”
Branchless banking, which is entirely digital, has required Sabadell to develop a strong digital platform, one that serves its clients in all stages of banking—onboarding, monitoring and assistance—without requiring a large physical presence.
Cárdenas is currently leading the legal and regulatory team charged with analyzing, developing and instrumenting Sabadell’s expansion into the world of Banking as a Service, or BaaS, in Mexico. The challenge, he explains, is BaaS in Mexico is not expressly regulated, and in some aspects, questions traditional legal interpretations and banking operations.
Yet BaaS represents an enormous opportunity by allowing Sabadell to partner with third parties to develop new technologically advanced banking products, and to reach new sectors of the Mexican population, especially a younger and more digital generation. BaaS will also function as a means to bring formal banking to some of the 50 percent of Mexicans who do not have bank accounts, Cárdenas says.
Setting up shop
Cárdenas created Sabadell’s legal department and all internal processes for its three main banking areas—corporate, commercial and retail. Until recently, he was also its litigator. The bank just hired a new attorney to take on that role, he says.
Banco Sabadell’s corporate banking involves financing a wide range of Mexican business and industry, and is the most complex part of his work, Cárdenas says.
Whether drafting, reviewing or approving the documents to finance mergers and acquisitions or to invest in real estate, oil and other areas of energy development, or the hospitality industry, Cárdenas says he needs to “understand all the operations and necessities of the clients and their business areas.”
Commercial financing may not be as complex, but there are three times as many transactions as in corporate banking. The volume of Sabadell’s commercial banking has required Cárdenas’ team to standardize its implementation; currently around 23 percent of all commercial credits are standardized and require a minimum of personal involvement. His goal is to increase that number to 40 percent by 2020.
Cárdenas also oversees Sabadell’s retail business, including corporate bank accounts, governmental entities, and individuals, investment products, digital and mobile banking, and corporate credit cards. Additionally, his team advises Sabadell’s internal treasury in negotiating funding and designing new product offerings such as derivatives, which the bank expects to offer in 2020.
In setting up and overseeing Banco Sabadell’s legal department, Cárdenas has impressed legal peers who have provided outside counsel for the bank.
Eduardo Villanueva, a partner at Nader, Hayaux y Goebel S.C. in Mexico City, and Sobrino Russek S.C. partner Aaron Russek have each worked with Sabadell for about seven years.
“I do a lot of real estate financing with the bank. I may not always work with Luis, but he has a very good team working around him,” Villanueva says, adding the team also keeps Cárdenas thoroughly informed on deals that are occurring.
The two are able to have lunch once every two months or so, and their chats cover bank business and current events. What also strikes Villanueva is how Cárdenas cares about his legal team.
“He worries a lot about how his team feels inside and their needs,” Villanueva says. “He is a very kind person because of that.”
Russek agrees on how well Cárdenas cares for his team, adding he is also impressed by his skills.
“I can say that he is one of the most talented legal directors I know,” Russek says. “Luis is an excellent technical lawyer with a business-oriented approach whose focus is to facilitate the company’s business while protecting Sabadell from potential legal risks.”
Already in line
An area where Banco Sabadell is already on solid ground is complying with anticorruption measures, Cárdenas says.
In the last several years, the Mexican government, led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has been fighting corruption in business and how the government does business, with some reforms enacted before Obrador was elected in 2018.
However, Obrador was elected on a platform of stepping up enforcement efforts, which include new rules and regulations that redefine criminal liability, create tougher penalties for violators, and add new government agencies to investigate and prosecute alleged corruption—for example, new laws regarding asset forfeiture and tax avoidance.
Cárdenas says complying with new anticorruption standards has not been difficult.
“We had regulations in the banking industry before the government took charge, and particularly, Sabadell has very thorough anticorruption and anti-money laundering procedures, so it has not changed as much,” he explains.
Bringing the skills
Recently recognized by the Mexican magazine Expansión as one of the “30 under 30 years old” leaders in Mexico, Cárdenas was already well-versed in banking regulations when he came to Banco Sabadell. Previously, he was a senior legal counsel for HSBC Mexico’s office, which is based in the United Kingdom.
He earned his master’s degree in law from the Postgraduate Studies Center in Mexico City in 2014 and completed a senior management program in the IPADE Business School in Mexico City. He says his interest in the law developed because he saw a legal career as a way to help people.
“If you know how to approach it well, law allows you to solve real problems and improve people’s lives,” he says.
Away from the office, Cárdenas is an avid baseball fan who roots hard for the Mexico City Red Devils of the Mexican League. Single, he says he also tries to run three times weekly and has added yoga to his fitness regimen.
Ready for the challenges Sabadell represents, Cárdenas says the results so far are beyond encouraging.
“Today, we are a competitive bank with the challenge of being sustainable over time, a clear vision to simplify the banking industry and provide accessible banking services to benefit our clients, and with a commitment to build the best bank in Mexico,” he says.
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