Santander Holdings USA is the parent company of Sovereign Bank, which reigns in the Northeast with more than 700 branch locations. The bank caters to individuals and small to midsized businesses, offering deposits, credit cards, insurance, and investments, as well as commercial loans and mortgages (which together account for nearly half of its total portfolio) and residential mortgages and home equity loans (more than a quarter). Santander Holdings also owns a majority of Santander Consumer USA, which purchases and services subprime car loans made by auto dealerships and other companies. Spain-based banking giant Banco Santander acquired the rest of Sovereign Bancorp it didn't already own in 2009.
Founded in 1902, Sovereign Bank has grown by making some 30 acquisitions since 1990. Its acquisitive ways have brought the company new markets and, sometimes, new headaches. For example, its 2006 purchase of Independence Community Bank and its 125 branches gave the bank a foothold in the New York metro area and linked the bank's mid-Atlantic and New England operations. The deal was fraught with difficulties, including shareholder concern over where power of the company would end up if the company sold shares to fund the acquisition. In the ensuing tumultous years, three CEOs were replaced as Sovereign tried to overcome its exposure to bad loans.
Streamlining back-office operations were among the cost-cutting efforts utilized to stop the company's losses. The bank transferred its loan servicing operations to Santander Consumer USA and stopped originating indirect auto loans in the Southeast and Southwest after that business performed poorly.
Santander Holdings returned to profitability in 2009 after Sovereign Bancorp suffered more than $3 billion in (mainly investment- and credit-related) losses in 2007 and 2008 combined, as the company ramped up its focus on risk management and collections. It continued its momentum into 2010 and 2011 as the economy showed signs of improvement. In 2011, the company reported revenue growth of 23% (some $7.2 billion) and net income growth of some 19% (some $1.3 billion), as both interest and noninterest earnings increased. Santander Holdings has stabilized the credit quality of its loan portfolio and experienced fewer net charge-offs and lowered its provisions for loan losses. Improved performance from investments, an uptick in net interest margins, and acquisitions by Santander Consumer helped the company's results as well.
As Santander Holdings continues to keep a close eye on credit quality, its strategies for growth include courting large corporate clients and strengthening its core retail business by adding new products. In early 2012 Sovereign Bank changed its charter from a thrift to a national commercial bank, which provides it with more flexibility to target corporate clients in particular. The company is also focused on specialized business lines such as lending for multifamily housing in Brooklyn, New York.
In 2011 the company sold a 35% stake in Santander Consumer to an investment group and its management team. The deal brought Santander nearly $1 billion, enough to account for its biggest noninterest earnings of the year. – less