Carlos Torres Vila: “Together we can ensure that the recovery is stronger"
BBVA Group executive chairman Carlos Torres Vila and BBVA CEO Onur Genç participated in a virtual Live@BBVA event with more than 65,000 connections from employees. They provided answers to questions about how BBVA is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and sent a message of hope. “Together we can ensure that the recovery is stronger,” the chairman said. “It is time to step up and make a difference,” and to do so, “ "it is essential that we all - authorities, companies and society a whole - act in a coordinated manner."
The meeting with employees started with the chairman sending a message of encouragement and support to all employees, especially those most affected by the coronavirus.
BBVA’s chairman acknowledged that, "We are facing a global health crisis, like we’d never seen before.” As the IMF said, we are facing a pandemic that is likely to cause “the biggest global GDP slump since the end of World War II."
“At BBVA, we can do a lot,” he added. The chairman urged employees to “live by our values and contribute to society. Individually, and together as a one team, with responsibility.” In the short term, BBVA has donated medical equipment and aid, “in which we are planning to spend a bit over €35 million.” Carlos Torres Vila also stressed that "banks are part of the solution", and play a key role in preventing the destruction of the productive sector while fostering the recovery.
During the Q&A session, employees were particularly interested in returning to work at their regular locations. Carlos Torres Vila said that “we will be back when it is safe to do so.” On this matter, he said that “the return will be gradual. It will not happen immediately.” BBVA is working on “a return plan”, but “we will always follow the recommendations of health authorities in each country,” he added.
Carlos Torres Vila: BBVA is working on a return plan, but we will always follow the recommendations of health authorities in each country
“In those plans, we will include some aspects, such as COVID-19 testing, and the identification of contacts of confirmed cases and the testing of those people,” he said. BBVA will also take all hygiene measures and prevention protocols, in line with the Group’s interest since the beginning, that the health of employees, customers and clients and society as a whole is a number one priority.
In his opinion, “one of the key takeaways from this pandemic is that much of our work can be done remotely. Ninety-five percent of our central services employees and 72 percent of our branch network are working remotely,” he said. Telecommuting is nothing new at BBVA, but from a technical standpoint, such a high percentage of the bank’s staff working from home has entailed a huge effort from the engineering teams. In his opinion, BBVA Group’s level of preparedness and ability to adapt to the new, challenging context “is impressive,” he pointed out.
Carlos Torres Vila also shared details about the measures to help customers and clients amid the crisis.
First, he said that BBVA, as well as the rest of the banking industry, continues to provide a crucial service during these exceptional times, through its branch network, as well as its digital channels and remote managers. “To be open for business so we can be close to our customers and clients is fundamental,” he added.
Second, the bank is focusing on offering relief to individuals and businesses, in the form of deferrals and more flexible terms in loan repayments.
Third, the bank has approved a series of measures in each country within its footprint to support vulnerable sectors of society. The measures include waiving fees, and allowing customers to get their pension or unemployment benefits ahead of time.
Finally, BBVA is providing businesses with financing to overcome the crisis, especially the self-employed and SMEs, two segments that "create and sustain most of the jobs.” In March the bank had already started to offer more short-term lending to the self-employed and businesses. This is where specific credit lines, such as the ICO credit lines in Spain, have a role to play, he said. “We are working at a good pace providing those loans, but most important is to do it right,” Carlos Torres Vila added.
“Our priorities have not changed: they have been strengthened”
As for BBVA’s strategy for the future, Carlos Torres Vila stressed that, "Our priorities not only have not changed, but have been strengthened, i.e., our advisory role, based on data.” However, he did explain that in the short term, the crisis has forced us to focus on other issues: guaranteeing operational security and business continuity, supporting our customers and clients during this crisis, and closely monitoring the main impacts and risks of the crisis for the bank and for our business.
Anticipation, people and technology
Onur Genç summarized BBVA’s approach to managing the crisis with three words: Anticipation, people and technology. He said that BBVA anticipated some situations, trying to stay ahead of events, learning from other countries’ experiences and the different phases of the crisis, with a special focus on the promotion of telecommuting.
In second place, people, “they are our number one priority and inspiration.” BBVA’s CEO expressed his appreciation and thanked those who continue helping customers on a daily basis at the office, as well as those who are working from home in this new scenario.
Third, technology, which has granted BBVA a competitive advantage during this crisis. In his opinion, "crises such as this one are showing us how crucial it is our investment in technology.”
Onur Genç: Crises such as this one are showing us how crucial it is our investment in technology
The CEO reiterated that, "We are working hard to protect jobs at BBVA." For this reason, the bank does not currently have any extraordinary measures to reduce its workforce, he said.
Finally, Onur Genç emphasized that BBVA is facing the crisis from a very solid position, with a comfortable capital and liquidity positions in all countries in its footprint.