Growing in a global market: Efma shares its vision for the future

In an incredibly challenging marketplace, global retail financial services association Efma is continuously evolving to stay one step ahead of industry trends. With new chairman Javier San Félix at the helm, we find out what’s in store for the organisation

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 23 April 2015
Growing in a global market: Efma shares its vision for the future

This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of OnWindows

Over the last forty years, global retail banking association Efma has evolved considerably. Starting off as a European organisation formed by a small number of bankers and insurers, it has grown to become a truly global business, today meeting the needs of more than 3,000 brands in 130 countries – including over 80% of Europe’s largest retail financial institutions.

With an eye on the future, it has maintained a spirit of innovation and recognised the shifts in the industry that it has, in turn, adapted to. This has most certainly been the case in the last twelve months, during which time the organisation has undergone a huge transformation in a number of areas, which have helped to strengthen its position in an undeniably difficult market. Indeed, despite the ongoing effects of the crisis, Efma welcomed a record number of members in 2014.

It’s fair to say that the organisation’s internationalisation strategy has proved far more successful than expected. Today, Efma is the only truly global retail banking association, and it remains dedicated to strengthening its relationship with banks in all regions and understanding each and every one of the unique challenges they face. Efma now has offices all around the world, including in Singapore, India and Dubai.

“There are a number of activities which will help to bolster this international reach, but one initiative which is worth a special mention is the innovation portal and the related awards,” explains Patrick Desmarès, Efma’s secretary general. “Launched in 2013, this initiative has been a tremendous success, with 599 innovations submitted by 252 different institutions from 69 countries this year. Not only does the awards ceremony in October attract bankers and insurers from the world over, but it also gets exceptionally good press coverage. It is also expected that Efma’s brand new portal dedicated to new entrants in the banking sector ( will become a benchmark – in the same way as the now classic Statistical Yearbook (”

Efma’s commitment to digitisation has also had a major role to play in the organisation’s success. Recognising the move towards digital channels across the industry, it has launched a new online content platform and app to provide all members with a rich and diversified flow of retail financial services information covering a wide variety of geographies and topics.

“There is currently no equivalent to this in the industry,” says Desmarès. “The next step is to develop new user interfaces and further personalise the content that members want to receive, delivering it to them in the format and at the frequency of their choosing.”

Another area that is the subject of reinvention is the Efma conferences. These events continue to be highly rated and are particularly popular with participants from distant countries. For example, in ten years, the number of paying participants from Africa, America and Asia has increased from 6% to 20% of the total. In contrast, the number of paying participants from large member institutions from old Europe has collapsed (-60%).

In light of this, Efma is working to move on from the traditional concept of conferences. It will focus above all on interactivity and exchanges of experiences, as well as in-depth case studies. It will favour venues that are far more informal and more welcoming, but above all less expensive. It will organise a smaller number of events, and rely on differentiation, quality and innovation to make its mark in a saturated conference market. Moreover, it will steadfastly cultivate its professional identity in order to stand out from sponsorship and exhibitor hunters.

Not only has Efma firmly cemented itself in its strongest position yet, but it has also secured the backing of one of the most influential bankers in the industry – Javier San Félix, senior executive vice president at Banco Santander – who has stepped into the coveted position as Efma chairman.

Bringing with him extensive international financial services experience, San Félix will help to drive Efma forward into the next phase of its global and digital strategy. In his current role as senior executive vice president, global head of retail and commercial banking at Banco Santander, San Félix is responsible for leading the bank’s worldwide retail and commercial banking operations. Prior to that, he held a number of senior positions within the industry, including manager of Santander’s Americas division; CEO of Banesto, until its merger with Santander; senior executive vice president of Non Euro Markets in Santander Consumer Finance; and executive member of the Santander Consumer Finance Board of Directors. San Félix’s experience in the industry, as well as his deep understanding of what it takes to run one of the largest banks in the world, will be invaluable in helping Efma to move forward into the next phase of its global and digital strategy.

“The current banking model is changing,” San Félix says. “The main challenge for the banks in a digital world is to develop new omni-channel customer propositions to attract and retain customers. Increasingly, banks will need to win the battle against other non-banks to convert those better-informed online shoppers into customers. The challenge is global and gaining momentum as banks try to come to terms with technologies that have already transformed sector after sector.”

Desmarès believes that San Félix is an ideal candidate for the role. “Javier really understands where our industry is heading and is a fantastic representative for Efma, which is continually looking to deepen its relationships with retail banks worldwide,” he explains. “Not only will Javier support us as we keep on growing our global presence, but he realises the importance of building strategic relationships with businesses outside of our industry, such as retailers. His knowledge and experience will help us to build on our core strengths and develop a truly global Efma. I am delighted to have him on board and look forward to sharing the future successes that we will undoubtedly achieve together.”

There is an unquestionably exciting fervour within the association about what it can achieve, and it is resolutely committed to continuing along its path of evolution in the years to come. Looking ahead, Efma pledges to keep moving with the times and provide its members with the knowledge and insights they need to drive their innovation efforts and to succeed for many years ahead.

“The benefit of Efma as a global network is to help detect key initiatives and industry trends from around the world,” San Félix concludes. “I truly believe we will play a strategic role within this new scenario and our commitment is to firmly contribute to develop and strengthen the business.”

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