For many years, Chile has been the poster child for Latin America: after a very difficult period in the early 1970s, it has become a haven for economic and political stability, with an economy which works well, few or no exchange controls, and an environment which is more business friendly than virtually any other country in the region.
The scenario has been somewhat tarnished since 2019, with violent public protests against rises in the cost if living, and a contentious referendum on changing the constitution – changes which were rejected by a large majority. However, in fairness, it must be said that the current constitution dates from the rule of General Pinochet, and the reaction of all political parties appears to have been that the proposal was too radical, and needs to be modified to reflect the wishes of the electors.
Against this background, all participants in the call confirmed that Chile is business friendly. For one, it has become a major market, while several others have made significant recent investments and acquisitions there. No participant has any serious doubts about the country or its future, and all view the absence of FX controls as greatly simplifying their lives.
However, all is not roses, mostly due to slow progress in administrative areas:
- There is a lot of bureaucracy. In particular, FX trades must be reported to the central bank, even though they are all allowed.
- The country seems to be slower than most in adopting digitalised banking. Wet signatures are required for virtually every payment and transaction, with no exceptions, even during COVID. This adds a layer of cost and inefficiency, which is surprising – Argentina and Brazil score better on this.
- Most foreign banks seem to have a weak presence. Citi operates through a partnership with a local bank, Banco de Chile. This works quite well, but you have to ask, for example, to get the benefit of group pricing or to access Citi’s banking platforms. These are available through Banco de Chile, but they do not necessarily advertise the fact.
- Many other foreign banks are present, notably Santander and HSBC. But it does not seem to be a focus market for them.
- The regulations are onerous, and the local teams do not seem...please login to read on
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