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Brazilian Banks

Brazilian banks, in some senses, are among the best in the world.
Until very recently, inflation rate in Brazil was the highest in the world (as much as 80% per month; read about the
Plano Real, or how Brazilians defeated inflation); under such conditions, everyone leaving cash in the wallet or under the mattress is losing money, and banks, more than useful, become essential
It's true that most Brazilians didn't have enough cash left to think about financial investments; for those Brazilians, the only resort was to buy goods as soon as they had cash (which caused Brazilian supermarkets to improve on their own agility).
The middle class, however, demanded products and tools to protect their savings from inflation. In response, the banks (which have been operating in a competitive environment for years) had to battle to offer availability, variety, reliability and expertise to the market.
So, today, the Brazilian banking system:

  • is backed by high technology: informatization is employed to the max, and the limit is more on the user's side than the bank's side; most banks have a presence in the internet, and the options available are wider than some foreigner banks
  • operates all across the country; pratically all Brazilian cities have the presence of one of the major banks; medium cities (>100,000 habitants) usually have a few full service branches
  • offers a wide variety of products. Besides the usual transactions (receive salary, pay bills, etc), Brazilians can use to bank to: buy insurance; buy and sell shares; invest on currency, derivatives, many future markets, etc; invest on retirement plans
  • is reliable, in the sense that there is a protection net against frauds and bankruptcy; a few years ago, right after the inflation was controlled, a few major banks failed, and the Brazilian Central Bank responded with a tighter control of balances and the creation of a fund to protect depositors. Also, the technology and the supervision of the Central Bank bring reliability to the inter-bank operations: the clearing of transactions is quick and reliable (if interested in more info, visit the SISBACEN (Information Database System - allow real time access to information provided by the Central Bank) and the Brazilian Payments System (information about the clearing of financial transactions), both at the site of the Central Bank.

    Important Brazilian banks:
    Central Bank of Brazil (English version) The monetary authority
    BNDES - Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social (English version) National Bank for Economic and Social Development. An official bank with the mission to foment enterprises with social-economic objectives. Much of the privatization which happened over the last years were possible only because BNDES loaned the money used to buy out the companies.

    Important commercial banks (most banks have a version in English, but the links below point to the version in Portuguese):
    Banco do Brasil The biggest, by assets. Bank of Brazil has shares traded in the stocks exchange, but the Brazilian government has control over the bank.
    Caixa Economica Federal Another big official bank, entirelly controlled by the government (no share holders). Its major function is to finance the civil and construction sectors.

    The biggest private banks are:

    Bradesco and Itau have long been fighting to be the bank number one in Brazil; those are the banks with most branches and most clients. Bradesco seems to be still the biggest, but both organic growth or a quick buy out of another bank can change the scenario.
    ABN AMRO REAL Former Banco Real, it was bought by Dutch ABN AMRO a few years ago
    Santander The Spaniards grew fast because they bought BANESPA, the former official bank of the State of Sao Paulo; together with the comprehensive array of branches, they got a long list of clients
    Other American banks, like Citibank and Boston, have an old presence in Brazil, but their target is the upper class.

    For a report (fairly up to date) about the biggest Brazilian banks, visit this page of Central Bank to access the
    TOP 50 Brazilian banks

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