DAVOS 2021: Santander CEO says vaccines are the most effective economic policy

Ana Botin, chairwoman of Spain's largest bank Banco Santander, addresses the annual general meeting of shareholders in Santander March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent West TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Ana Botin, chair of Spain's largest bank Banco Santander. Photo: REUTERS/Vincent West TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.

The head of Banco Santander (BNC.L) says vaccinations against coronavirus is “the most effective 2021 economic policy.”

Ana Botin, executive chair of Spain’s largest bank, made the comments at a panel event at the virtual Davos Agenda summit of global leaders on Tuesday.

She suggested mass vaccination programmes could prove more important for European economies than interventions by governments and central banks.

It comes amid concerns over the pace of vaccine rollouts in Europe.

The euro slipped (EURUSD=X) on Monday after a survey in the European Union’s biggest economy, Germany, found a surprise decline in business optimism to a six-month low. The lack of progress in vaccine distribution and tighter lockdown measures were firms’ main concern.


READ MORE: EU leaders hopeful of deals on tech tax and tariffs under Biden

Meanwhile EU commissioner Stella Kyriakides warned of a “problem on the supply side” with AstraZeneca (AZN.L)’s vaccine in a speech on Monday night. She criticised the firm for planning “considerably fewer doses” than agreed for the EU, and announced new controls over vaccine exports from the bloc.

Botin said at the summit vaccines were crucial for the year ahead, but that action by EU policymakers had been key in 2020 - a year in which Europe “suffered a lot.”

WATCH: European Central Bank holds interest rates steady

She called the EU’s pandemic reconstruction fund an “historic initiative,” and praised the European Central Bank for intervening “early and decisively.”

“When there is a crisis, Europe makes progress,” she said. “We’ve never seen the EU putting together €750bn on a programme. For the first time we’ve issued our own debt.”

She welcomed the fund’s focus on digitalisation and a transition to greener energy, calling COVID-19 a “great crisis but also a great new opportunity.”

READ MORE: Plugging skill gaps could ‘boost global GDP by $6.5tn in a decade’

Digitalisation could help boost growth, strengthen the financial system and help it reach more people, she said. In some countries including the UK, 80% of sales have been through digital channels.

But she added: “The challenge for now is how efficiently we use these funds, and the governance.”

Botin also said the EU’s open banking rules, forcing banks to hand over data to fintech firms used by customers, were “not fair.”

She said other companies should similarly be required to share their data with banks to provide a “level playing field.”