Colombia - Commercial Guide
Banking Systems

Includes special features of this country’s banking system and rules/laws that might impact U.S. business

Last published date: 2019-10-13
Colombia’s financial system operates under the supervision of the Financial Superintendent, created in 2005 from the merger of the Banking Superintendent and the Stock Exchange Superintendent. The financial system is relatively large in comparison with the nation’s gross domestic product. It has many highly sophisticated institutions with state-of-the-art technology. However, financial services are still very costly and intermediation remains the most important financial activity.

Following the 1998-1999 financial crises, almost half of banking and non-banking institutions were closed, taken over, or forced to merge. Many weaker financial institutions merged or are now affiliated with more experienced and financially sound owners. Still, experts consider that the sector has not reached its ideal size. The presence of foreign banks has intensified competition and investment in advanced technologies and government authorities have made significant efforts to improve the health of the financial sector. In January 2012, Scotia Bank of Canada acquired Colpatria Bank for US$1 billion. Helm Bank was purchased by the Chilean group Corpbanca in October 2012 for US$1.3 billion. 

Commercial banks are allowed to complete all authorized credit operations, with the exception of leasing operations and real estate sector investments. Only commercial banks provide checking accounts. Within this group, some institutions specialize in housing and construction financing (mortgage banks). Commercial banks dominate the financial market, accounting for over 80 percent of the financial system’s assets.

Colombia has not reached the banking coverage of developed countries. However, almost all financial entities are expanding the infrastructure and coverage of their banking services, and access to virtual banking has improved significantly.

In 2009 a new law reforming the financial sector was passed. The reforms increased protection for financial customers, including requirements that financial institutions properly disclose the costs associated with their operations. They also forbid agreements in which consumers waive their rights and provisions shifting the burden of proof to consumers. The reforms create Advocate for Financial Consumers positions, which every financial institution must have and who are responsible for ensuring that financial institutions do not violate consumers' rights. The new law also introduces greater flexibility to the pension fund system by creating the multi-fund structure to allow for various risk investment profiles. It allows foreign banks and foreign insurance companies to operate locally without having to incorporate a Colombian entity, although they do have to set up a branch in Colombia, subject to all relevant legal requirements. Finally, the law establishes mechanisms to promote microfinance, securitization and the development of capital markets.