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Inside View: BBVA

Spain's second biggest bank is leading the fintech charge

Thu Oct 22 2015

BBVA is a bank leading the fintech charge. Between 2011 and 2013, it spent on average €850 million a year on tech infrastructure such as data centres, and software development. Last year it bought Simple, a US digital bank, and Spanish start-up Madiva Soluciones. And, this year, it invested in Coinbase, a bitcoin start-up based in Silicon Valley.

To be the best global bank of the digital age, management talent with a keen grasp of financial innovation will be needed. And in an interview with BusinessBecause, Spain’s second largest lender says business schools are an important part of its hunt for hires.

BBVA has 114,228 employees and 8,135 branches across 31 countries. It was this month ranked as best multinational workplace in the financial industry by Great Place to Work.

The Madrid-headquartered bank has dug deep to bet on technologies like mobile and big data, which could redefine banking by reshaping interactions, internal processes, and revenue streams. It has 6.7 million mobile customers and its mobile payments app, BBVA Wallet, in June had more than 570,000 users.

Can the financial services industry move fast enough to avoid being overtaken by digital challengers?

BBVA aims to be the best global bank of the digital age, and to do so, we need to compete, partner and grow with the new fintech players. We believe that fintech [start-ups] represent a fantastic opportunity to improve financial services, with their pace, innovation and agility encouraging positive change throughout the industry.

In fact, we’ve actively tried to encourage the development of disruption, with our start-up competition OpenTalent now in its seventh year and the establishment of a venture capital fund in San Francisco back in 2013.

Is finding the talent to deal with new digital services a challenge?

​To build the global bank of the digital age, you need the best people, and we take this search very seriously.​

How important are business schools as a talent pipeline to the bank?​

​Business schools are an important part of our search for the brightest and the best.

The number of high-profile technical failures in the financial services industry in recent years has alarmed experts. How much will legacy systems hold back banks?

Future-proof technology platforms are essential to support the exponential growth of data, the ubiquitous smartphone and the accompanying services.

We took the decision eight years ago to install a new platform from scratch, which has allowed us to launch key digital services ahead of the competition — our mobile payments app, BBVA Wallet, for example. Most banks are reluctant to make such a significant investment.

Will mobile banking at some point become the dominant way we access our accounts?

Multi-channel access is key, but with a smartphone in every pocket, mobile is increasingly important — as of July 2015, we had 6.7 million customers accessing their accounts via mobile, and growth is exponential.

Banks have vast amounts of data about consumer transactions and spending habits. What potential do you see for the use of data to improve services?

Turning data into knowledge and knowledge into added value services is a must for us. To be able to extract the full potential of the data, you need to have a state-of-the-art technology platform that can achieve the goal.

But there have been large scale data breaches. How much of a focus is cyber security in light of attacks?

Security of our customers’ data is paramount — and we invest accordingly.