Updated March 26 at 6:24am

Five Questions With: John Silva

Commercial banking market manager for Santander talks about the Rhode Island market.

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Five Questions With: John Silva


John Silva is commercial banking market manager for Santander, which acquired Sovereign Bank four years ago. The name change from Sovereign to Santander became official on Oct. 17.

Silva is responsible for managing and growing a large portfolio of commercial clients and developing new business in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.

He has more than 23 years of experience in banking, with 22 of those years in Rhode Island. His career has included positions at Sovereign Bank, Fleet Bank, BankBoston and Rhode Island Hospital Trust.

He is on the board of the Business Development Company of Rhode Island.

Silva has a degree in business administration from Roger Williams University and an MBA in finance from the University of Rhode Island.

PBN: Rhode Island residents and businesses, in general, tend to prefer long-term relationships and tradition. Your long career in the state is a good example of that. Sovereign is established in the Rhode Island, but was obviously viewed as a national financial institution, while Santander, headquartered in Spain, is clearly global. How does that fit into the framework of the general preference for Rhode Islanders to work with local companies?

SILVA: We are very much a local bank with over 800 team members living and working in Rhode Island and more than 9,000 team members serving local communities across our footprint in the U.S. Decisions about credit and lending opportunities are made locally, in line with our commitment to knowing our customers, being an active part of the community, and supporting the particular needs and market characteristics of that market. We’ve been a financially independent and autonomous subsidiary of Santander since 2009 and it is one of the strongest, most respected and well-capitalized banks in the world. For our commercial clients in Rhode Island who are interested in growing through foreign trade or overseas expansion, one of the benefits of Santander’s global presence is the access it provides to our worldwide network with proven expertise in international finance.

PBN: Competition for market share is tough in Rhode Island’s financial community. Everyone from the largest banks to credit unions offer similar products and promise personalized service. What’s going to make Santander rise about its competitors?

SILVA: The commercial banking environment in Rhode Island is highly competitive, with an increasing number of banks competing for an asset pool that has been impacted by the slow economic recovery, cautious business expansion and businesses deleveraging their balance sheets. At Santander, we are very much focused on supporting small- to middle-market companies looking for a banking relationship that offers them the knowledge of local decision-making alongside the experience and breadth of a global bank. We offer innovative financial products and services to help customers bring their ideas to life and our people are seasoned commercial professionals with many years of experience helping local businesses achieve their goals.

PBN: In the 23 years of your banking career, with 22 of those Rhode Island, you’ve worked for several banks and have been through mergers and acquisitions. Have you been able to maintain a fairly stable client base through those changes? Why or why not? How do you grow your client base with all the changes?

SILVA: Good customer service is key to the successful retention of any customer. From a commercial banking perspective, it’s important to meet the customers’ needs by listening to them and understanding their business, providing good customer service, being accessible and responding quickly to their requests. Customer retention is a major focus for Santander and open communication, strong personal relationships and accessibility of our relationship managers play a big role in retaining our customers. Many of the customers that we service today have been customers of the bank for a long time and have remained loyal to me and the bank for those reasons.

PBN: Santander has been in the spotlight with the official name change from Sovereign on Oct. 17. Although the bank’s message has been a guarantee of a seamless transition, have there actually been some changes that consumer and commercial customers have had to navigate? Have you had many questions or concerns from customers about the transition to Santander?

SILVA: As well as changing our name to Santander on Oct. 17, we are strengthening our retail and commercial banking offerings by investing over $200 million to build the brand here in the U.S., enhance our branches and ATMs and introduce new product offerings. While our name has changed to Santander, our customers haven’t had to do anything because of it – customers’ account numbers, PINs, log-ins and passwords all remain the same and customers will continue to use their current checks and cards until they expire. Although the Santander brand is new to many U.S. consumers, it is actually one of the strongest, most recognized brands in the world and our new advertising campaign introducing Santander across our footprint has been well-received by our customers. Our new charitable giving initiative has also been popular with customers –“ Ideas for Good” launched on Oct. 17 and customers can vote in their local branch for one of three community nonprofits to receive a $500 donation from the bank.

PBN: Do you foresee any changes for Santander operations in Rhode Island in the coming year or two, as far as increases or decreases in employment or a focus on any particular sectors?

SILVA: We believe that rebranding to Santander puts us in an even stronger position to deepen relationships with our retail and commercial customers and the communities we serve. We want to grow our customer base in the U.S. and the $200 million investment we are making in the bank will support us in not only retaining our customers, but acquiring new relationships and thriving in a competitive banking environment. We remain committed to Rhode Island from an employment and business growth perspective.


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If Santander wants to do good business here, it has to show that it is a member of the community rather than a dispassionate global behemoth based in far off Spain. How does it do that? In many ways, but key is to show support for the community by contributing to top events. For example, no one was impressed in the way that old Sovereign Bank dropped its support of the ball room dancing aspect of Waterfire a few years ago. That is just one way Santander can show they are a sustaining member of this community rather than the "here today gone tomorrow" approach that is so typical of out of state banks.

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