Need Tech Talent? BBVA's Answer Is Buy a Firm That Has It

Register now

As banks all over the U.S. struggle to attract top tech talent, BBVA is using M&A to add technology expertise.

BBVA announced this week that it purchased Madiva Soluciones, a Madrid company that specializes in mashing public data with proprietary information to help quicken the mortgage lending process. The price was not disclosed. The deal followed BBVA's acquisition of U.S.-based neobank Simple in February.

The nine-employee Madiva will keep its brand name and operate independently as part of BBVA's data and analytics unit.

Mark Jamison, BBVA's director of customer experience and business intelligence, sees the investment as a means to get a "great" app and "a great team of digital natives."

Most U.S. banks find it hard to hire the best developers and designers, who are often being courted by Google, airbnb, Amazon and many others.

Big and small banks alike are working with recruiting firms that specialize in niche tech areas, they're holding hackathon-like events, and they're overhauling their interview process for all of their positions.

BBVA uses a number of these recruiting methods and says one of its primary motivations for purchasing Madiva was to acquire talent in applied data science as BBVA continues its work to perfect its digital-customer experiences.

"Banks are now in the software business," Jamison said.

Take marketing, for example. A company's homepage can initially look like a "crazy cluster," Jamison said. He would eventually like to make BBVA's site much more personalized so that the products and services populating on the site suit an individual's needs.

"That is the vision we are building for," he said.

James Plath, a digital lead for financial services institutions at Gartner Consulting, said BBVA appears to have a culture that welcomes change and views data as a strategic asset rather than "a headache to be managed."

"I would love to see more banks adopt their mind-set."

And the bank has various methods for recruiting talent to create the digital experiences it seeks. Beyond acquisitions, it hosts coding events to get closer to developers and has a venture capital unit in San Francisco, as some other banks also do. (Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are among the big banks that have introduced tech-related events and/or funds to gather new ideas and job candidates.)

And, most notably, BBVA's chairman and CEO, Francisco Gonzalez, has publicly — and passionately — said banks need to view tech companies as their competitors or risk death.

BBVA's efforts also underscore how the lines between tech companies and banks continue to blur.

"What I'm seeing happening is an awful lot of talent is moving from Silicon Valley and vice versa," said Chris Skinner, author of the book "Digital Bank" and a well-known financial technology blogger. "There's a merged marketplace for fintech."

In an interesting twist, major digital companies are also poaching tech talent from banks. SnapChat, a mobile messaging app, scored a tech exec from Credit Suisse earlier this week, for example.

The merging of two worlds, however, gives rise to inevitable cultural clashes between the old and new guards, Skinner said. Greater collaboration will require banking execs to have a strong understanding of the technology that could irrevocably change their businesses.

"The best illustration is bitcoin," Skinner said. Many bankers are unfamiliar with a bitcoin-related item that has the potential to transform their industry. Namely, the blockchain, a distributed public ledger that records cryptocurrency transactions.

"To me, that is a fundamental challenge right now: how many people in incumbent banks at the decision-making level understand what is taking place?"

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.