BBVA sticking with Texas branch-expansion plan amid pandemic

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BBVA USA said Tuesday that it will add 15 branches in Texas — one of the Sun Belt states seeing a spike in new COVID-19 cases — early next year as part of a five-year strategic plan created before the novel coronavirus hit.

The pandemic forced executives to reconsider the plan and make some adjustments, but ultimately they decided the new brick-and-mortar financial centers will be important to have once customers are able to return to public life. BBVA anticipates its customers will want to visit branches to discuss more complex aspects of their financial lives, said Cody Sparks, the bank's head of relationship models.

“We paused and thought about it, but we felt very confident that those types of interactions are timeless,” he said. “COVID may be causing some of those things to evolve, but our customers will still want to be able to come to branches and have face-to-face interactions and meaningful conversations.”

"I do think you’ll see a pent-up demand for our customers to come to the branches and talk about a financial plan and the impact that COVID has had on them," said Cody Sparks, BBVA USA's head of relationship models.

Banks across the U.S. closed branches or limited lobby access when the virus took hold this spring, and stay-at-home orders accelerated a consumer shift to digital and mobile banking channels. But it’s also clear that some banks still see a value in having physical offices. The $93 billion-asset BBVA joins a number of other regional and large banks sticking to their branch expansion plans in spite of the ongoing pandemic.

While the Birmingham, Ala.-based U.S. arm of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Spain is generally sticking to its pre-pandemic branch design, it is making a few modifications to help with physical distancing. The bank is allocating more physical space in the new branches to customer-facing areas, and it’s adding partitions around personal bankers seated at the customer service bar inside each branch.

BBVA’s branch bankers often help customers navigate digital and mobile banking, so the bank is also providing them with flip books to help those customers without getting too physically close, Sparks said.

The bank currently has 331 branches across Texas, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The new branches will be located in markets like Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth, and each will be at least three miles from another BBVA branch, Sparks said. Six of the 15 will be located in low- to moderate-income areas.

Sparks said that physical access in low- and moderate-income areas is vital to the bank’s overall goal of helping customers improve their financial health.

“I don’t know that we will necessarily see transactional traffic bounce back, and I think that’s OK,” he said. “I do think you’ll see a pent-up demand for our customers to come to the branches and talk about a financial plan and the impact that COVID has had on them.”

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