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Switch to Santander Banner Brings Some Change, but Also Stability

Sovereign Bank

Sovereign Bank customers were met with a name change last fall, but Santander Bank leaders say other changes have been nearly seamless.

When the Sovereign Bank signs suddenly came down across Massachusetts last fall, replaced by the Santander Bank name, it was … well, anything but sudden.
“We branded as Santander on Oct. 17, but as you can imagine, a lot of work went on behind the scenes prior to the rebranding,” said David L’Heureux, Santander’s market manager of Commercial Banking for Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as he explained why the international banking giant, based in Spain, made the name change almost four years after acquiring Sovereign.
“We’ve been preparing for the rebranding for the past year and a half or so,” he told BusinessWest. “A lot of that behind-the-scenes activity was internal infrastructure changes, but also new product development, so that when we rebranded, we could bring new products and services to the market.”
Sovereign, one of the 25 largest retail banks in the U.S. by deposits — operating in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, serving 1.7 million retail and commercial clients — was acquired by the Santander Group in early 2009. Locally, it maintains offices in Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, and Enfield, Conn.
Initially after the acquisition, Sovereign did business as a financially autonomous member of the Santander Group, but October marked the first time it operated as a federally chartered U.S. retail and commercial bank under the Santander brand.
“Since being part of Santander, we received a national charter for the bank, which allows us to do a lot more commercial business,” L’Heureux said. “And we’ve invested in infrastructure to deliver our services in a consistent manner across our footprint.”
With 102 million customers and more than $72 billion in market capitalization, the Santander Group is one of the world’s largest financial institutions, with subsidiaries doing business under the Santander brand in the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and Portugal. It has maintained business operations in the U.S. for more than three decades.
Since Sovereign became part of the Santander Group, the bank’s corporate headquarters were relocated to Boston.
“Although we’re the largest bank headquartered in Massachusetts — we have 228 branches in Massachusetts — we also bring a global dynamic to the marketplace,” L’Heureux said. “We operate in 40 different countries and 10 different major U.S. markets.
“What Santander brings to the table is the ability to help our clients do business in a more global fashion,” he continued. “We’ve invested a significant amount of capital and people in our international trade services group. We’re already seeing increased traction, helping clients do business overseas. These companies can be very large or very small; in our local economy, business needs vary, and we have the ability to address the full spectrum.”

Big Spenders
L’Heureux said the changes for Sovereign customers go well beyond a name change.
“We also spent a lot of time, effort, and money developing new products, both for consumer and commercial customers,” he noted. On the retail side, for example, a program called extra20 checking pays customers up to $20 per month for having at least $1,500 each month in direct deposits and paying at least two bills from their accounts online each month. No minimum balance is required, and no maintenance fee is charged.
“It’s not a promotion, but an ongoing product,” he explained. “It’s $20 for doing normal business with the bank. That’s been very popular; we’ve had a good reaction from the public.”
Meanwhile, “on the commercial side, we’ve unveiled or are unveiling more services,” he continued. “We have a purchasing card for corporate clients, akin to a credit card, that basically allows companies to have their purchasing departments acquire electronically, as opposed to going through a purchasing system internally. The goal is expediency and ease of operation, if you will, on the corporate side.”
As part of a planned $200 million initiative over the next three years, Santander has unveiled a series of other upgrades nationally, including:
• Network-wide refurbishment of the bank’s more than 700 branches, including improved space facilitating personalized, one-on-one banking;
• Completion of its newly renovated flagship branch on Beacon Street in Boston;
• Rollout of enhanced ATMs across its footprint in an effort to bring greater convenience and functionality to customers;
• A new, streamlined website design, featuring industry best practices in fee disclosure, improving transparency and ease of use for consumers;
• A new, comprehensive package of financial products and services designed to meet a wide range of business and consumer financial needs; and
• A substantial print, broadcast, and online advertising campaign across the bank’s markets, both locally and nationally, designed to familiarize customers with the Santander Group.
“We’re looking forward to acquainting consumers and businesses with the Santander brand as well as our expanded capabilities and resources,” said Kathy Klingler, chief marketing officer and director of corporate communications, in a press statement. “Our new advertising campaign will focus on how Santander will support our customers in achieving their dreams, goals, and ideas.”
Locally, L’Heureux said, those customers range from retail clients to small businesses to much more sizable companies.
“From the local hardware store to large multi-nationals, the bank has people dedicated to those different ends of the spectrum,” he told BusinessWest. “We feel we bring the strength of a large, global bank, but also the local commitment of a community bank.”

Street Level
That focus on local service is important in a region that values its community-banking culture.
To that end, Santander intends to promote corporate social-responsibility efforts by working with local agencies, nonprofit organizations, and higher-education institutions, Klingler said. In 2012, Sovereign Bank contributed more than $2 million across its footprint to nonprofits; issued more than $2 billion in community loans and investments to low- and moderate-income individuals, families, and businesses; and awarded more than $8.5 million in grants to 26 college and university partners.
Meanwhile, L’Heureux said, “in Western Mass., in the Springfield area, we have branches staffed with local people who know the market, who know the clientele. So I think we’ve been doing business in Springfield just as we are in Spain.”
With all the changes, he added, it’s important that customers understand what’s not changing.
“The people are not changing. Account numbers are not changing. Local offices are not changing. In fact, we’re reinvesting in our branches, repurposing all our branches,” he said.
“Our tagline is ‘a bank for your ideas,’” he added. “We think that applies as much on Main Street as it does on Wall Street. It’s very simple: we listen to clients, try to simplify our solutions for them, and enable them to achieve their objectives. That’s our mantra: listen, simplify, and enable.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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