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BBVA's NBA Account Is Nothin' But Net

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BBVA Compass is learning lessons from its interactions with startups.

The division of Spanish banking company Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, which recently committed fresh investment to its BBVA Ventures arm, is launching a branchless bank account aimed at fans of professional basketball.

Clearly modeled after early stage companies' efforts — most notably Moven (formerly MovenBank) and Simple (Formerly BankSimple), which are both in pilot with beta customers — the NBA Banking account is a fee-less checking and savings account attached to a debit card that will give the Birmingham, Ala., bank a national scope.

The launch will coincide with the NBA's All-Star Weekend in Houston. BBVA has been working the professional basketball league for the past three years, a spokeswoman says.

"We've been investing in the future for a while; BBVA was one of the first banks to formerly have an R&D division, which is unusual for banks, really," says BBVA Compass CEO Manolo Sanchez. "The industry is at a crossroads in the sense that the brick and mortar system is changing."

Eventually, he says, other services (perhaps loans and mortgages) might be attached to the banking account, which will be primarily managed through a bank customer's smartphone. "Our strategy is to really have a long-term relationship, so we will build other ways to services [these] customers," says Sanchez, adding that the bank will have to be careful not to brand those financial services products alongside an NBA logo, because of its limited agreement with the league.

The NBA Banking accounts can be funded through ACH, credit cards, debit cards or mailed-in deposits. Customers can end up putting cash into the accounts as soon as the next day. Those new customers will also have access to Cardtronics' Allpoint network of roughly 50,000 ATMs.

The account opening method is nearly immediate, says Shawn O'Brien, a director of consumer deposits and senior vice president at BBVA Compass. The process is the by-product of BBVA's partnership with bank technology provider Fiserv's CashEdge division.

A majority of the technology found alongside the NBA Banking account, he says, comes from the bank's new Accenture Alnova core system that had been implemented last fall. "All the online banking stuff comes off our new core," says O'Brien.

There is even a gamification piece to BBVA's new account that encourages mobile customers to make three bill payments in exchange for $100 to spend in the NBA's online store.

"Startups show us a lot of the need for those things, such as the games piece and the content piece. We are seeing a lot of those things from startups and new players in the industry," says O'Brien.

The decision to launch the branchless banking accounts comes amid a series of efforts by BBVA to innovate.

The bank is working with the same company that developed Apple's voice recognition software Siri (which was originally created by SRI International) to foster a similar technology for its own online banking website. The virtual personal banking assistant, Lola, will launch in the next 12 months, says Sanchez.

The company is also the bank holding SmartyPig's customer's deposits, The  Des Moines company provides an online savings account and a prepaid card.

Indeed, BBVA has gone to great lengths to support new technologies. Just last month, the company said it would invest $100 million through its newly created BBVA Ventures initiative.

Already BBVA has put money into SaveUp, a startup that plans to gamify aspects of financial services, and Ribbit Capital, a Silicon Valley-based venture firm led by Meyer Malka, the founder and former chief executive of the now-defunct Bling Nation.

However, with its new bank account, BBVA still has to be careful to make sure to engage its customers correctly. That goes beyond providing an iPhone app that mixes sports content with financial information, says Jim Van Dyke, president and founder of Javelin Strategy and Research.

"To tap into key emerging customer profitability growth segments like the increasingly affluent Gen Y.2, ages 25-34, more is required,"  he says in an email. "The banking must be both complete for each new channel -- that means, for example, that you must be able to not just use mobile banking but enroll as a new bank customer via mobile as well."

That means providing real-time access to accounts, he says, making sure that when someone makes a deposit on their mobile phone they'll be able to see it on an ATM.

You know, the stuff millennials expect.

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Comments (3)
The affinity online bank account is back?? Hopefully BBVA can do better than its predecessors. There was the dog bank, the bank for women, and let's not forget...
"There was even BancBowie, the online bank for David Bowie fans. By and large, these sites
Posted by dwolfe | Friday, February 15 2013 at 9:20AM ET
True, Daniel. But all of the examples you cite are startups. The track record when an established brick-and-mortar bank starts an online bank is better. Flushing Financial Corp.'s iGobanking is still around all these years later, as is Bank of the Wichita's Redneck Bank. On the strength of these examples, we advised community bankers to consider an online strategy targeting niches in an article a while back. It'll be interesting to see BBVA give it a try! -- Bonnie McGeer, American Banker Magazine
Posted by bmcgeer | Friday, February 15 2013 at 5:20PM ET
How could I forget Redneck Bank! Being a bigger or more diverse company certainly helps, yes. But even big companies have some notable failures racked up (Citi's c2it and Wells' Billpoint, PayPal's Pay Later and PayPal Mobile, and Visa's Rightcliq, for example). But I'm not ruling out BBVA and I'm interested to see how the NBA account plays out. The ball's in their court!
Posted by dwolfe | Friday, February 15 2013 at 5:30PM ET
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