Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo regains his title as the wealthiest man in Colombia, according to Forbes magazine. The 90-year-old native of Bogota is the founder of the banking conglomerate Grupo Aval, which comprises four banks and ranks as one of the most significant financial groups in the country.
According to the magazine, Sarmiento Angulo’s wealth totals $7 billion, although in the past, the same publication attributed nearly $9 billion to the billionaire. Stock market losses are said to be responsible for the decrease in his wealth, although his assets in Colombian pesos would have remained stable.
The business conglomerate includes entities such as Banco de Bogota, Banco de Occidente, AV Villas, Banco Popular, and the pension fund Porvenir, amounting to a total of 31 trillion Colombian pesos in assets and serving 18 million customers in Colombia and Central America. In that region of the American continent, the group acquired the brands BAC Credomatic and Multibank.
Sarmiento Angulo reclaims the throne
Sarmiento Angulo held the title of the wealthiest person in Colombia until May of this year when he was dethroned by Luis Vélez, the founder and CEO of Nubank. This 41-year-old native of Antioquia possesses a fortune of $6.8 billion, $200 million less than Sarmiento Angulo.
In an interview the veteran banker gave to Forbes in early 2023, he expressed optimism regarding the economic recovery following a “recovery from the pandemic crisis” in 2022. Nevertheless, he anticipated that 2023 would be a challenging year, especially due to the global inflationary context.
The exceptionally high interest rates maintained by central banks worldwide throughout the year to curb inflation are not helping companies or economic growth in general.
Origins of a successful entrepreneur
Luis Carlos Sarmiento states that when he completed his studies, he had no money. “When you finish your studies and you’re not wealthy – I wasn’t wealthy when I finished my studies – and you have no capital, you have to look for employment. And you have to take advantage of everything you can learn because that is the capital of the future: everything you learn there is what will increase your next salary; what you learn in your first job is the guarantee of a better salary when you continue,” he stated in the Forbes interview.
The banker explained that at 23, he arrived “as an assistant engineer at the company building the Bogotá-Choachí road” on the outskirts of the Colombian capital. From that first job in road construction, he began to ascend, eventually reaching the pinnacle of his career as a businessman.
First company before the age of 40
He started his own company with his own resources shortly before turning 40 years old. The business was involved in residential construction. His company completed the construction of 40,000 residential units in the neighborhoods of Las Villas and Villa del Prado in Bogotá. This activity allowed him to accumulate a significant amount for the big leap into the world of banking.
Connected to his construction activity was the world of finance, which he had to turn to in order to obtain the capital to finance his construction projects. That was when Sarmiento Angulo understood, in the mid-1970s, the importance of controlling a financial institution. At that time, he decided to purchase a bank that was under state intervention: Banco de Occidente was his first bank. He obtained a discount of nearly 30% and acquired the majority of the bank’s shares.
From there, his financial conglomerate grew until the founding of Grupo Aval in the late 1990s, which brought together some of the most important banks in the country under his control.
Corficolombiana, business diversification
Sarmiento Angulo’s businesses, however, go beyond Grupo Aval. Corficolombiana is a company that provides financial solutions to some of the largest companies in the country.
“Corficolombiana is something to admire. In recent years, growth has been extraordinary, and it now has assets of nearly $14 billion and good results. It is involved in very important activities: we are building roads throughout the country, and we are also in the industrial sector, with Empresa de Energía de Bogotá and Promigas, which is a beautiful company with great development. In addition, we are entering new technologies,” said the owner to Forbes.
Beyond the world of finance, since 2012, Luis Carlos Sarmiento has owned El Tiempo Group, the largest editorial and journalistic group in Colombia.
Tainted by the Odebrecht scandal
However Corficolombiana, the Colombian billionaire’s company and Grupo Aval subsidiary, was implicated in the scandal of Odebrech, the Brazilian oil company accused of illegally financing politicians’ campaigns throughout Latin America in exchange for future benefits.
In August 2023, it was revealed that the U.S. justice system imposed a fine of $80 million on Grupo Aval, which admitted to being part of a bribery network to secure benefits for the Ruta del Sol sector II, a highway concession it co-owned with Odebrecht. The case ended with the suspension and abandonment of the project.
Some independent sources accused Sarmiento Angulo’s El Tiempo newspaper of downplaying the U.S. sanction for the scandal, even speaking of “absolution.”