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Luis Alberto Cardenas Diaz – Banco Sabadell Mexico 

Banking on a Mexican future of democratized savings 

The most relevant project ever commenced this year for the Mexican division of Spanish-based Banco Sabadell. Essentially, it’s what its legal boss, Luis Alberto Cardenas Diaz, describes as the democratization of savings for the typical Mexican consumer. It’s also a process underway before the COVID-19 pandemic but garnered momentum during the pandemic with no anticipated slowdown. 

Luis Alberto Cardenas Diaz | Executive Legal and Compliance Director | Banco Sabadell Mexico 

Luis Alberto Cardenas Diaz | Executive Legal and Compliance Director | Banco Sabadell Mexico

In March, Cardenas told Vanguard from Mexico City that six of every 10 Mexicans now use digital banking, with the lion’s share coming from the much-valued 25—to 54-year-old demographic. Yet, he goes on to say that the supply and quality of Mexican internet connections have not grown at the same pace. 

“If not addressed, this situation will lead to a deepening of inequalities that will affect digital payments, banking access and the use of services by the most vulnerable groups,” he says. “We continue to be a country with great lags and debts in this matter.” 

But, according to the personable Cardenas, it needn’t be this way. His employer is at the forefront of a digital revolution for the financial industry, a revolution that keeps him and his 50-strong legal and compliance department mindful of myriad details.     

“I have a high-performance team that is a fundamental part in obtaining the results and the success I’ve had in this part of my career,” he says.  

Customer-first agenda 

“Our intention is none other than to support Mexicans so that through savings they can meet their goals and objectives,” Cardenas says. “The bank will be launching its value proposition that will be accompanied by a powerful marketing campaign to position the Sabadell brand in the Mexican market and thereby endorse Spain’s commitment to Mexico.” 

Luis Alberto Cardenas Diaz | Executive Legal and Compliance Director | Banco Sabadell Mexico 

Cardenas provided details about Banco Sabadell’s goal of being a simple digital bank with 100 percent transparency and no fine print.  The purpose of this product is to prioritize savings for our clients. With Sabadell, there will be no fine print, conditions, commissions or any type of requirement for the user since we want our clients to bring their savings with us, be safe, protected by the authorities and be available 24/7.  After launching this new digital bank account, Sabadell will analyze how to evolve its offer in retail banking during the coming years. 

Being immersed in this new digital project, Cárdenas remembers what his area has gone through to achieve efficiency projects. But before digitizing processes and investing in big-ticket technology, he emphasizes the necessity of everything fitting into a comprehensive business agenda. Ever a collaborative type, he says the legal and compliance department’s vision must align with the new chief executive officer, the board of directors and shareholders. 

Among other protocols, it involves working within a budget and demonstrating tech upgrades are investments, not mere costs. Toward this end, Cardenas cites the person-hours saved through process automation. 

“We realized time was wasted in preparing documents, sending them to our counterpart, negotiating, printing and then signing them physically,” he says. “We simply were not efficient.” 

The solution comes from a platform enabling the legal staff to digitally prepare and conclude a negotiation. Upon making the case before the brass, Cardenas got the go-ahead and says the bank now enjoys a competitive advantage in a Mexican financial industry that has generally been slow to modernize. 

Stickler for rules 

Efficiency, however, must be accompanied by regulatory compliance, and Cardenas assures that Banco Sabadell adheres to today’s rulebook while anticipating the next edition. Once a contract is OK’d, he says it undergoes rigorous review, and his staff kicks off the formal process by signing something basic such as nondisclosure agreements, which will conclude in signing the definitive agreement. 

Luis Alberto Cardenas Diaz | Executive Legal and Compliance Director | Banco Sabadell Mexico 

The legal staff has vindicated itself on digital contracting, and Cardenas eagerly shares his approach with other departments. That collaboration enabled the bank to further its digitalization program earlier this year. 

“It was an extensive analysis since we had to review all regulations and cross-cutting requirements that govern the banking sector,” he says. “Currently, these regulations include specific and strict requirements for certain actions that banks carry out internally and with their clients. This led us to analyze all  processes and documents, starting within the bank and ending with the external client, thus achieving a greater breadth in our digitalization process than we initially proposed.” 

Technology and its implications are ever-evolving; Cardenas and those under his wing help lead Banco Sabadell through another project phase. It’s all part of his responsibilities as executive legal and compliance director, even if technology changes or lessens the need for legal counsel.  

“Lose the fear that things can only be seen and done by lawyers,” he advises. “Otherwise, it will not turn out well. That is from the past. My team knows that the quality time we can give our internal and external clients is  largely based on the time we manage to streamline our functions.” 

Cautiously embracing AI 

Nowadays, there’s fear, or at least concern, about artificial intelligence’s implications for banking. Whatever the apprehensions, he says AI’s expanded use is inevitable. Perhaps, like fire, it is a valued tool, though not anyone’s master. He favors its use but wants México to pioneer its regulation within the financial sector. 

Luis Alberto Cardenas Diaz | Executive Legal and Compliance Director | Banco Sabadell Mexico 

“It allows you to be much more assertive and effective and quickly solve day-to-day problems quickly,” he says. “But it’s extremely important to have clear rules regarding its general framework, particularly the scope of application and targeted sectors, as there is a risk of misuse of personal  data  and false information.” 

He’s familiar with AI’s tools, and one that calls his attention is Harvey, which is mainly used in Europe by law firms to create customized language models tuned to the specific needs of outside counsel. Better versed in technology than many of his legal counterparts elsewhere, he lauds Harvey’s use of GPT-4, which marks an AI milestone, particularly in natural language processing. The synergy between AI and the human experience will shape the future, he says while reminding that the human element remains central to any business matter. 

So Cardenas will monitor these developments as well as others as his responsibilities expand. That’s been the case since he became Banco Sabadell’s first in-house lawyer in January 2015, shortly after what’s Spain’s fourth-largest banking group moved into Mexico. Originally hired as legal director for business, he was promoted to his present role three years ago. Now, he is the go-to on many fronts, including relationships with financial authorities and corporate governance, contracting, litigation, compliance, cybersecurity, anti-corruption and bribery. 

Banco Sabadell is thriving in Spain, and Cardenas says he’s upbeat about its potential in Mexico and is proud to lead its legal and compliance department at the relatively young age of 41. But it’s a role he seemed to be working toward for much of his career, after having held other in-house positions, earning his master’s in law from the Postgraduate Studies Center and completing a senior management program at IPADE Business School, both in Mexico City. After five-and-a-half years as senior legal counsel at another financial services company, HSBC, he joined the Sabadell in Mexico. 

According to Cardenas, the opportunity to lead the legal department at a new entity was too much to pass up and nearly a decade later, he has no regrets. There’s even an opportunity for fun with Cardenas, a member of the bank’s basketball team that won silver in the Mexican Banking Association competition. 

Gold, of course, would have been better, but with the bank’s busy agenda, there’s not much time for play. He’s also not about to compromise family life, what with Cardenas and his young wife raising an infant son. He finds it easy to count his blessings. 

“I have a great wife who has allowed me to give my all in my work, and it is super important to have that quality, balance and timing,” he says. “At home and work, I have the greatest team.” “My son Luis Alonso has clarified my life’s direction even more and given it a deeper meaning. ” 

Published on: July 2, 2024

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