Building a Brazilian bank
After seven years at J.P. Morgan as Brazil CEO, alumnus José Berenguer took a role he believes will transform the still highly concentrated Brazilian financial market. In Brazil, some 80% of assets are with the top five banks,* contributing to higher pricing and spreads.
Berenguer is CEO of Banco XP, a technology-driven financial services platform that offers advisory services and investment products and is Brazil’s largest brokerage. It aims to broaden access to financial services and educate a new class of investors in Brazil.
“What attracted me was the possibility to build a bank from scratch, which is basically what I’m doing,” says Berenguer, who marked his thirty-sixth year in banking in 2021. “We have the client base, but we didn’t have the products. The idea is to provide a cheaper, simpler option with a better user experience.”
Berenguer recently worked to pilot an XP credit card. Now, he’s focused on foreign exchange and overseeing the development of XP’s digital banking app as part of running the company.
His years of leadership experience at J.P. Morgan have been essential to his current work, he notes. As the Senior Country Officer of Brazil, Berenguer prioritized collaboration and close partnership across the lines of business “You need to see the bank as a whole. You lose a lot of possibilities to cross-sell if you take a silo approach,” he says.
The early years
Berenguer grew up in São Paolo, and at age 18 found a job in the mail room at his local bank and moved into a trading role a year later. At 23, he ran a Treasury trading desk for a large Brazilian bank.
“I was always attracted to and intrigued by the markets and what was happening in the financial industry in Brazil,” he says.
He went on to work for some of the largest institutions in Brazil, as CEO of Gávea and several Banco Santander business units.
Staying close to clients
Berenguer joined J.P. Morgan in 2013 at a time of political and economic instability in Brazil. “It was a complicated period with lots of ups and downs,” he recalls.
Berenguer and his team ensured that J.P. Morgan Brazil continued to serve its clients and persevered during the most challenging years, while other international companies left.
“The bank stayed close to its clients and to the community,” Berenguer says. “The way J.P. Morgan works with clients—that will stay with me. It’s about the culture and the high standards and doing the right thing.”
For young bankers early on in their careers, Berenguer advises them to always be curious and put the client first. This is especially important, he says, as the financial services industry evolves to become even more client-centric.
“This industry will continue to change very fast,” he says. “The power the customer will have will be more substantial than it is today, and the way we consume financial products will change,” with open banking and marketplaces becoming more prominent. “The client will be empowered with more options.”
A champion for diversity and inclusion
While at J.P. Morgan, Berenguer also became well known as a champion for diversity and inclusion. In 2019, he was named the best role model in the world for being an LGBT+ executive ally, topping the OUTstanding list of top 50 LGBT+ executive allies.**
He helped the firm become the first bank to receive the “Empresa Amiga da Diversidade” (Diversity Friendly Company) seal in Brazil, and he’s spoken annually at the Out & Equal Forum Brazil, alongside Jamie Dimon.
Berenguer also helped to spearhead a J.P. Morgan initiative to encourage more Black talent in Brazil to pursue banking. The initiative was eventually adopted by the entire Brazilian banking community, Berenguer says.
“I truly believe a diverse team is a better team,” he says. “Diverse teams perform better.”
Connecting with former colleagues
Berenguer hosted the firm’s Alumni Network gathering in Latin America with Jamie Dimon in 2019, and he recalls the evening as one filled with camaraderie and rekindling valuable connections with close friends and former colleagues.
“People respect the bank, and they feel proud to be a part of its history,” says Berenguer, who looks forward to reconnecting with more fellow alumni.