In the midst of Hurricane Harvey, BBVA Compass began getting calls from Houston customers asking to have their monthly mobile deposit limits increased.

With the roads flooded, snapping a photo of a check was the only way to deposit it for many people, who needed more money than the bank would make readily available, due to its risk controls.

“They had reached their limits and knew they wouldn’t be able to get out of their home for some time to get to their local branch,” said Alejandro Carriles, executive director of mobile and online banking at the bank.

Alex Carriles, the head of mobile and online banking at BBVA Compass.
Information lifeline
After Hurricane Harvey, "you might not have power, you might not have internet, the cable might be down. But if you had a mobile phone, you were able to figure out if your local branch was open," says Alejandro Carriles, executive director of mobile and online banking at BBVA.

Carriles anticipated that more Texas customers would have similar requests and began looking into whether the bank could raise those deposit limits on the fly.

“Usually we can’t, because all of that is calculated by an algorithm that assigns the deposit limits for customers,” Carriles said. “But it left me thinking, we can’t single out a customer and it would be too hard to single out ZIP codes, but I know that Texas got hit really badly. What if we change the algorithm to provide all Texas residents with a higher tier so they can have higher deposit limits and slightly shorter holds on their mobile deposit items?”

That day, he sent out emails asking various parties, such as legal and compliance, for approval to make such a change. At the same time, he asked his team of developers to start analyzing and creating code to see if it was doable and how long it would take.

By noon the next day, Carriles had received the approvals he needed and the code had been created and was ready for testing. The new mobile deposit algorithm went live the following day.

“Within 48 hours we were able to do something for our customers that would truly benefit them and deliver something in the digital channel,” Carriles said.

To limit the risk that higher deposit limits might cause, the bank built a risk model that takes into account each customer’s original limit.

“So it’s not setting a blanket, carte blanche deposit limit for everybody, but it increases limits proportionally to where you were,” Carriles said. “So we think it was the right call and that’s why we had to have approvals from everyone that was involved in mobile deposit. It was a unanimous decision.”

Another thing the bank realized during the storm was that the best way to communicate with customers was through the mobile app.

Vehicles sit in floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey outside an Exxon Mobil Corp. gas station in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Unprecedented flooding from the Category 4 storm that slammed into the state's coast last week, sending gasoline prices surging as oil refineries shut, may also set a record for rainfall in the contiguous U.S., the weather service said Tuesday. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg
Facts on the ground
BBVA customers in areas hit by the storm "knew they wouldn’t be able to get out of their home for some time to get to their local branch,” says an executive who pushed to increase mobile deposit limits. Bloomberg News

“In many cases you might not have power, you might not have internet, the cable might be down,” and therefore the home computer wouldn’t work, Carriles noted. “But if you had a mobile phone, you were able to figure out if your local branch was open or not.”