Aurelio Aleman

Q: What have you done as the key person in First Bank in recent years to position it as the leading company in the sector? Which was your strategy to achieve this objective, with profitability in mind? What has been the strategy behind it? 

When I took over as CEO of First Bank, I recognized that all stakeholders are of equal importance. By stakeholders, I mean everyone who has an interest in the company. To be successful, we have to meet the needs of all stakeholders in a balanced way. This is a difficult thing to achieve, but it is essential to maximize results.

We have to make decisions on investments, where to put our money and what will yield the best results. We have to comply with regulations that can be costly, so all things do not necessarily go in favor of what shareholders want. However, we have to balance it all and set our own goals in each of these areas. 

I think the second most important thing is hiring the best team. I believe in teamwork, collaboration, and open communication. We have built an executive team that works together with a high sense of self-awareness. We assess ourselves on what is working well, what we need to fix, what we don’t need to fix, and what our priorities are. 


Q: How can First Bank benefit from the arrival of foreign capital to the island?

 We had to raise capital to comply with regulatory expectations on how the bank should be capitalized back in 2011. So, because of the impact of the financial crisis and the impact of the economy, we were successful, and actually, this was probably the most challenging step in my career, being able to continue the bank journey in raising that capital.

I think foreign capital on the island is key, but so are the financial disciplines of the government. You have to have the right programs and the right balance in attracting that capital and making sure that the capital brings opportunities to the local communities. We have done pretty well. Puerto Rico has become a more interesting and known place, and investors have come in. 

In the industrial side, there are some European companies in the west coast of the island. In the aeronautics and medical devices industries, there have been investments from German companies and others that have learned about the incentive implemented in 2012, which was updated as Act 60 in 2022. 

From an individual perspective, the most benefit is really for US citizens. 


Q: What are the main objectives for the coming years for First Bank, and what makes you stay above the competitors in the sector, differentiating yourself from others?

 There has been a lot of consolidation, but it’s still a very competitive environment. We acquired Santander, and prior to that, we aimed to have a 20% market share in everything that we do on the island. After that acquisition, we moved the needle. We have to participate at least with 30% of the market in everything that we do. 

We have US federal credit unions also participating in this market. It is a lot of competition because we compete with digital banks that are in the US that can do business in Puerto Rico. 

Technology and digitalization are key. The more digital services we can provide to the customer, the more engaged and loyal they will be. We have been doing this for a long time. We launched the first mortgage or initial platform online on the island and the first dealer network system to do auto loans on the island. We have continued to invest in different platforms. 

Our priorities now include fully automated small business lending, which we launched a couple of years ago, right after the pandemic. Now we are providing a full automation cycle for larger commercial lending processes to generate more capacity. We have a multi-channel strategy that is as important as a branch because some customers want to talk to the branch manager.


Q: Do you think that Puerto Rico can become a center for regional economic development within the Caribbean, and maybe, why not, for the region and Latin America? How do you see that, and what role can First Bank play in positioning itself? 

There is an import and export business in Puerto Rico with South America, manufacturing in South America that comes here, and manufacturing here becoming distribution centers. We do business in the Virgin Islands, and we have seven branches there, so we participate in some of those services.