What BBVA aims for with new mobile app

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BBVA on Wednesday launched a new mobile banking application, Mobile 9.0. The global company included several key wrinkles: It localized the app for each country it operates in and added more detailed information about transactions. It also will send customers alerts when they're about to overdraw accounts, as well as offer them less expensive alternatives such as a credit card or a short-term personal loan.

Javier Rodriguez Soler, the chief executive of BBVA USA in Birmingham, Ala., and Manolo Moure, its head of retail customer solutions, gave American Banker a detailed look at the new app, discussed the philosophy behind it and shared where it fits within the five-year plan Soler has created for BBVA USA, the $100 billion-asset U.S. unit of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Spain.

Design of the new app

The app’s look has been updated, Moure said.

“We are not talking about just changing the colors or the icons,” he said. “We have also reworked all the flows so that customers can see key information easily, and they can access regularly used features easily.”

There’s a simplified login page for customers. They can still use biometrics like fingerprints or face recognition as their authentication method. There’s a streamlined mobile account-opening process. Consumers can now open new accounts, including credit cards and personal loans, directly from their mobile devices in a few clicks.

Once they log in, customers get a screen displaying all the products they have with BBVA as well as their financial accounts at other banks. The data from other banks is pulled in through a partnership with the data services company MX.

“What we want is to present the customer, in one place, their full financial picture,” Moure said. The company added a navigation bar at the bottom of every screen with the five most used features.

One app around the world

Soler brought Moure to the U.S. from Spain to manage the global development effort for the new app. Developers around the world worked as one team, leveraging lessons from the mobile apps in Mexico, Spain and Turkey, while considering local needs and nuances of the United States.

“This is an advantage of being a global bank — we call it the global creation,” said Soler, who has been the chief executive of BBVA USA for the last year and a half.

Javier Rodriguez Soler, CEO, BBVA USA
“We will in the short term be making less fees out of overdraft,” says Javier Rodriguez Soler, CEO of BBVA USA. “We're fine with that. But in the medium term, we'll have financially healthier customers.”

Soler acknowledged that not everything developed in one country is perfectly transferrable to another. But about 90% of the code and design are reusable, he said.

“Through the [application programming interfaces], through the midlayer, we reutilize a lot of what has been developed in one country into another,” Soler said. “You also learn from errors. So whatever we've been doing for three or four years in places like Spain or Turkey, they've learned trial and error, and then we don't repeat the same errors.”

Extra transaction data

Additional transaction data is an important new aspect of the app. The app clarifies when transactions have posted and how they affect account balances. Customers can drill down to better recognize and remember purchases they’ve made.

One reason BBVA is providing additional transaction data and the customer’s balance before and after a transaction is to be open about the vagaries of the automated clearinghouse, where transactions can take three to five days to settle.

Another reason is to help BBVA make helpful suggestions to customers based on their account activity, an ability many banks have been pursuing.

“If we see trends, changes in behavior, we can proactively communicate to the customer, hey, something is going on — please take a look,” Moure said.

Adding more information, especially about balances, is also part of a strategic decision to help customers improve their financial health, Soler said. Strengthening clients’ financial footing is one of the five pillars of Soler’s five-year plan.

“Traditionally banks in the U.S. have made a very good profit out of the poorer segments of the population through overdrafts,” he pointed out. “And that's been a huge issue with supervisory agencies and consumer advocates.”

Some fintech companies charge no overdraft fees but don’t allow people to overdraw — an option BBVA rejected in favor of allowing them to choose between overdrafts or more affordable options such as personal loans provided they meet the qualifications for them, Soler said.

“We will in the short term be making less fees out of overdraft,” he said. “We're fine with that. But in the medium term, we'll have financially healthier customers.”

Down the road, the bank plans to use artificial intelligence to predict when someone is likely to overdraw and help them avoid doing so.

To help customers financially through the pandemic, BBVA has been offering three-month loan deferrals to consumers, small businesses and corporations. It has been waiving overdraft and ATM fees, too.

BBVA had an application ready for the Paycheck Protection Program in three days, Soler said; 850 employees from other parts of the company helped the small-business team cope with the extra development work. The company says it made $3.3 billion of PPP loans to 22,000 small businesses; 3,100 of them were new customers.

“It would take years for us to gain so many customers in this segment,” Soler said. “We gained it in weeks.” He said this helped save 360,000 jobs at businesses that received the loans.

Technology plans

Another pillar in Soler's five-year plan is “data and technology.”

On the data side, he is prioritizing privacy protection and avoiding data loss. BBVA is on the front lines of compliance with the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation. The bank is also working to comply with a similar rule in California and plans to roll this out across the country.

“It's a huge deal, not just for banks, but for technology companies and many other sectors,” Soler said in reference to the data privacy protections in GDPR and California's rules. “It's as important as making good use of data to help customers.”

On the technology side, Soler pointed out that 10 years ago, BBVA invested more than $300 million on one of the first real-time core banking platforms in the U.S.

“Just today I sent a picture of a check and it was automatically real-time-available in my account,” Soler said.

BBVA has also been making outsize investments in new digital businesses like the digital bank Simple, which it acquired a few years ago, and fintech companies it has backed such as Azlo, which has developed an app for small businesses; Upturn, which helps people improve their credit score; and Covault, which markets identity management software. Soler would not say how much BBVA has invested in these companies.

Along with the values tied to financial health Soler has expresed, he has also been vocal about the recent unrest around police brutality and racial inequality. He wrote an internal memo expressing support for Black colleagues and customers. He also signed a letter BBVA sent to Congress urging lawmakers to act on police reform. All BBVA offices closed at 1 p.m. on Juneteenth.

“We are living in a historical moment in this country, as we did in the '60s, of making a difference due to the unfortunate events that all saw on social media; my son showed [the George Floyd video] to me on Instagram before the story came out,” Soler said. “It’s an inflection point for all of us. I'm an immigrant to this country. I come from Europe, and I'm so grateful to be in this country, the country I admire the most. It’s a melting pot of races, the richest country in the world in absolute terms and per capita, one of the richest as well. And it is incredible that we still see this injustice, especially with the Black community. African Americans have been historically suffering injustice. It's a wake-up call for corporations to react.”

He noted that Birmingham is the site of legendary confrontations during the civil rights movement, and that BBVA has a large presence in the diverse city of Houston.

“We'll do our best to help,” he said.

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