ORLANDO — BBVA's purchase of upstart Simple gives the bank a digital banking platform it could not have built on its own while providing Simple with the resources to continue to innovate, BBVA Compass Chairman and Chief Executive Manolo Sanchez said Tuesday.
Speaking at a retail banking conference here hosted by American Banker and its affiliated publications, Sanchez also insisted that BBVA Compass would keep Simple independent. Simple, formerly known as BankSimple, has won over customers with an app that allows them to quickly and easily track their spending.
"We'll let them flourish and create and finalize what they've started to build, then we'll roll out new products and services on this platform," Sanchez said. "We will not mess with them. They'll be on their own."
Spanish banking giant Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria bought Portland, Ore.-based Simple last month for about $117 million. Simple will operate as a unit of BBVA Compass, its U.S. unit headquartered in Birmingham, Ala.
The acquisition is part of the bank's efforts to stay ahead of the curve in the "digital revolution" taking place everywhere, including in financial services, Sanchez said. The bank has also implemented a real-time core banking system and adopted mobile check capture.
Staying ahead of the curve, he added, sometimes means seeking out nontraditional banking platforms.
"The way I see it, [Simple] has developed the first pillar of native Internet banking," Sanchez explained to attendees of Retail Banking 2014. "It's not just a transactional banking product, it's a whole system that lets the user take control of his or her own finances."
He noted the "phenomenal customer loyalty and virality" of Simple's brand — the company has grown solely through word of mouth.
"Our board said, surely you could build [digital banking] software for less than $117 million," he said. He added, though, that it's not just about software, but rather the systemic difference between — and consumer acceptance of -- a startup like Simple and a traditional bank. "We know we're just starting to learn what this world looks like."
Asked how a mainstream bank like BBVA Compass would navigate owning an "anti-bank" from a messaging and customer relationship point of view, Sanchez argued that Simple is not really an anti-bank. It's a company based on helping Americans meet a basic need: saving money. Its "Safe to Spend" feature lets customers see how much money they have in their account, taking into consideration their savings goals.
"I think that's a great value proposition for a large segment of population," Sanchez said.
As for why it made sense for a large bank to buy the nonbank startup, Sanchez said BBVA has something most investors in startups lack: patience and a long-term view. The bank can give Simple the time it needs to reach profitability, he said.