Santander's Botin says distrust of bankers still fuels populism

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Banco Santander Chairman Ana Botin said that more than a decade after the financial crisis, bankers and other elites remain distrusted around the world, and "as a result, political populism is ascendant."

Botin, speaking Tuesday at an event in the bank's Madrid headquarters, also warned that a failure to recognize rising dissatisfaction with the current model of capitalism could eventually lead to its demise.

Santander is particularly vulnerable to global shifts in public sentiment given its operations across the Americas and Europe. Chile, its sixth-largest market, is being rocked by the worst protests and riots in decades, disrupting supply chains and prompting military curfews. In Santander's home country of Spain, polls indicate that the nationalist, anti-immigration Vox Party may become the third-largest force in parliament after Sunday's election.

"We have huge responsibilities as the guardians of businesses in the modern world. We must recognize them — and do more to live them," Botin said. "If we don't, business-as-usual may lead us to no business at all."

Companies must also look beyond shareholders to embrace what's good for the whole of society, she said, pointing to Santander initiatives including microfinance in Mexico, funding exchange programs for Chilean students and a green-finance arm that raised 50 billion euros ($56 billion) between 2015 and 2018.

Her comments echoed remarks earlier in the year by the Business Roundtable, the association of CEOs of large U.S. firms.

Trust "is hard to win, but all too easy to lose — and let's be candid: we did lose it, and we were not the only ones," Botin said. "Untrustworthy behavior by a few contaminated public perception of us all. Politicians, businessmen, bankers, once trusted figures, now were untrustworthy."

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