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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Sovereign soon to be pronounced 'Santander'

August 17. 2013 2:02AM

A COUPLE of years ago, I heard a college administrator mispronounce "Chipotle" several times during introductory remarks about restaurateur Steve Ells, the founder of the Denver-based Mexican food chain that recently expanded into New Hampshire. Ells was about to deliver a commencement address to 20,000 students and their families at the University of Colorado in Boulder, his alma mater.

So I didn't feel too bad when I realized I would have mangled "Santander" when the regional vice president of Sovereign Bank visited the New Hampshire Union Leader last week, part of his outreach to trumpet the bank's rebranding to match the name of its Spanish parent company. Fortunately, he set me straight before I revealed my ignorance.

It's sahn-tahn-DARE. As in Banco Santander, named for the Spanish city where the global financial giant was founded. (Hear it pronounced correctly at

VP Mike Bruno, who joined the company eight months ago, is not too worried about whether customers get the name right.

"They can call it San-TAN-der or Sah-tahn-DARE. As long as they are banking with us and enjoy that experience, we'll accept either pronunciation," he said.

The Santander brand is well-known in the U.K., Germany, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain and Portugal. The company boasts 102 million customers and a market capitalization of more than $72 billion. While the name may be unfamiliar locally, it has international cachet that bank officials believe will help strengthen its position in the U.S. market. While it has operated in this country for 30 years, the change marks the first time Santander has operated as a federally chartered U.S. retail and commercial bank under its original Spanish brand.

Sovereign Bank, one of the 25 largest retail banks in the United States by deposits, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Santander Holdings USA, which acquired Sovereign in 2009. On Oct. 17, Sovereign will adopt the Santander moniker throughout its footprint, which includes New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

In New Hampshire, Sovereign operates 20 branches and 50 ATM locations and employs about 150 people. For customers, the change won't require anything more than learning to pronounce that new name. For the company, it's part of a three-year $200 million initiative to refurbish more than 700 branches, roll out new ATMs with check-scanning capabilities, and complete work on its flagship branch at One Beacon St. in Boston.

"For us, it shows the investment we're making in the infrastructure and that we're here to stay and invested in the communities," said Bruno, who previously worked for Bank of America. "As we launch Santander and change the name, it also ties nicely everything that brand represents, which is excellence and a world-class customer experience."

Bruno says customers who have emigrated here from one of Santander's primary market countries or who have worked abroad take certain things for granted about the company. "I think we have the unique challenge here in the U.S. to meet their expectations of what they've experienced, whether that's in Spain, Brazil or the UK," he said.

On the other side of the coin, of course, are the customers in the Northeast who aren't familiar with the parent company and just might take to calling the bank "San-TAN-da." (Hey, I grew up here and had to learn how to pronounce my R's, too.)

"There we have the unique opportunity to define what the brand is for those individuals and bring that brand to life for them," Bruno said.

Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or

Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook

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