130 years Celebrating Together

130 years of innovation

At the end of the 19th century, when innovative changes were emerging in fields like the sciences, communications, and social structure, a bank was founded in Old San Juan that would also change the history of Puerto Rico.

Following in the footsteps of great men whose common purpose was to serve the neediest communities, the Sociedad Anónima de Economías y Préstamos, today Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, was born in the Grato Tinaud Building.

The island remained under Spanish rule, but the foundations of a great city were beginning to be built there. Already at that time, Popular's innovation was marked by a bank for all, which would later extend throughout the 20th century to the entire island- first with the Rolling Banks in the 1950s, and then with branches in practically every town in Puerto Rico.

The bank, known as "The People's Bank," aimed to remain at the forefront by bringing in any technology that would facilitate the way customers managed their finances. This effort was not limited to customers, but also to its employees and the communities it served. Thus, after another bank brought ATM machines to the island, Popular not only incorporated them into its branches, but also developed an exclusive network known as ATH, an acronym for A Toda Hora ("At All Hours" in Spanish).

And that same passion with which the first employees were building from the ground up what would become Puerto Rico's leading bank, is felt today when we talk to Camille Burckhart Portela, Vice President of Innovation, Technology and Operations, who has been with Popular for more than 20 years.

"Popular has always sought to innovate in order to solve something; a situation or problem in the country that can be solved through our offerings"

-- Camille Burckhart Portela

says Camille with a smile that demonstrates her commitment to incorporating the necessary technological tools to continue innovating and to provide financial solutions to the communities Popular serves.

Camille tells us that in the case of the ATHs, the goal was to provide customers with a faster, easy-to-use electronic tool that would generate trust and make some transactions more accessible, at any time and in any place. Innovation did not stop there, says Camille. In 1993, TeleBanco Popular was launched, followed by TelePago. In both cases, the purpose was to expand the company's services to make banking transactions by telephone more convenient, which was achieved to a greater extent with the introduction of the answering machine.

To provide more convenience to its customers, Popular launched the bancopopular.com website in 1996. A year later, the PC Banco tool was launched and, in 1998, TeleBanco Comercial was launched.

Popular transformed the financial market once again in 1998, when it introduced its online banking platform, which, since 2000, has been known as Mi Banco. This is another innovative service that allows for a more convenient connection to the bank.

In that sense, Popular has brought the changes of the times to its people, products and services. After all, the transformation was not limited to technology, but also included educating employees by providing them with the necessary tools to adapt to the changes.

Popular did not stop growing and expanded to the United States and the Virgin Islands. In both markets, as well as in Puerto Rico, its goal has always been to provide customers with financial solutions. Listening to the client and knowing their needs is an integral part of employees' responsibilities. That is how Popular has built bridges of knowledge and a functional infrastructure in each region where it operates. Thus, technology has been fundamental to Popular's expansion and strengthened presence, not only in Puerto Rico, but also in other markets.

Camille tells us that while this growth was taking place, the new millennium brought with it the launch of the E-Bill platform, an electronic invoicing tool. Similarly, Mi Banca Móvil was incorporated, followed by the E-Account platform, a fully online account.

Other tools that have made Popular an innovative bank are Depósito Fácil- which allows people to deposit cash or checks through ATMs, making those funds available immediately- and the Cajero Parlante ("Talking Teller" in Spanish), which allows blind or visually impaired people to make transactions at ATMs.

The Cajero Parlante was not only a great innovation, but it also relied on blind people who collaborated with the bank to establish a tool that was fully functional for them. With this tool, Popular's innovation stands out, as well as its commitment to listening and understanding the needs of the communities it serves.


This same commitment also stands out when in 2020, and amid the public health emergency due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Popular created an online platform to simplify the application for federal emergency funds for individuals and businesses.

Once again, the bank turned its attention to listening to the needs of its customers and finding ways to help them amid a global crisis. Thus, in record time and without mishap, thousands of applications for Payment Protection Program (PPP) assistance were processed and beneficiaries saw their incentive deposits in their accounts.

Technology and innovation in Popular have gone beyond its products and services. Thinking about the importance of promoting new technologies and organizations with an eye on the future, Popular created Popular Impact Fund, a $15 million fund aimed at financing companies that develop strategic technology, have a social impact, have growth potential and need capital. In this way, Popular is taking new steps to extend knowledge and tools that could have a positive step for many.

The Puerto Rico of today is not the Puerto Rico of 1893, and technology has come a long way. We are already seeing innovations that were unthinkable in Popular's early days. Popular has continued to incorporate new tools, not only through external resources, as it did in the past, but also by internally developing technology that can change the way its customers do banking. Popular is also closely following the advances in artificial intelligence and exploring how to use it responsibly and for the benefit of its customers in all the markets where it has presence, all of this with the help and knowledge of Camille, who remains deeply committed to the bank.

Popular continues to cultivate that hunger for knowledge and innovation that characterized it since October 5, 1893. 130 years later, the company continues to evolve and set the pace in innovation, not only with technology, but with education, community contributions, and the environment. In every step taken by the thousands of employees and customers who have passed through Popular, there is history, as well as a genuine desire to build a better future for all.

As part of our 130th anniversary celebrations, we present our Stories of Impact, which highlight Popular's legacy in Puerto Rico's socioeconomic development through the following lenses: innovation, small business support, housing, financial inclusion, and human capital development.