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Coronavirus 10 Jun 2020

BBVA’s war room, a key tool for managing the COVID-19 health crisis

How does BBVA manage the evolution of the pandemic across its footprint? After monitoring the news report began emerging earlier this year about a new virus, on March 9, the bank's Corporate Continuity Committee decided to create a global war room, led by Ricardo Forcano and Carlos Casas, the heads of Engineering & Organization and Talent & Culture, respectively. War room is a military term that is increasingly used in the business world to describe a group of people who are totally dedicated to tackling a crisis, to make timely and agile decisions.

If there is one thing that the COVID-19 health crisis has shown us, it is that anticipation is key. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the measures that were initially seen as excessive have sometimes proved to be insufficient. In this context, BBVA has anticipated events in all the markets in which it operates to meet two primary objectives: protect the health of all BBVA's employees and customers, and ensure business continuity and customer service.

Over the last two months, the war room has played a pivotal role in the operational management of the crisis, led by an empowered team, with a global vision of what is happening, and with the capacity to make timely and agile decisions. Under normal conditions, the members of the war room would have been sitting in the same room, but because of the safety measures implemented by the bank, each of its members has managed and coordinated the crisis from their homes. They have remained in continuous contact through videoconferences and multiple daily conversations, working according to the Agile methodology.

Coordination with the countries has also been very intense. Since the beginning of the pandemic, weekly videoconferences have been held with 14 countries, progress has been shared, and the measures to be adopted and best practices have been coordinated.

This continuous coordination with the different countries - as well as reporting to the Group's management and governing bodies, along with the Board of Directors and its delegated bodies - has facilitated the bank's ability to quickly adopt the measures required at any given moment.

The priority: to protect the health of employees and customers and ensure operational continuity

To meet these objectives, the measures adopted by the war room have evolved as the situation triggered by the pandemic unfolded.

In the second half of March, the war room's efforts were initially aimed at coordinating the implementation of remote work and ensuring that the necessary resources were available. In just a few days, more than 90 percent of the employees in the central services and 60 percent of the employees in the branch network across the group were working from home. A remarkable feat of foresight, taking action even before health and labor authorities started issuing their recommendations.

The bank established the necessary health guidelines and individual preventive measures. In this regard, branches were equipped with hand sanitizer dispensers, protective screens, and disinfection kits to help employees protect themselves.

In April, once most of the employees were working remotely, the war room trained its efforts on ensuring the bank's operational continuity and customer service. Three specific lines of action were established:

  1. Provide the Group with the necessary technological infrastructure to ensure that the majority of BBVA's employees can work from home, and reinforce customer transactions through digital channels.
  2. Ensure the operation and service level of the call centers across the Group.
  3. An employee communication and engagement plan was implemented. Here, it is worth noting the creation of the #BBVAatHome website, an initiative that was originally designed to be the global meeting point for employees.

Other activities related to corporate social responsibility have been carried out through the war room, such as the purchase of ventilators and medical equipment, or the coordination of economic contributions to support the groups most affected by the crisis.

Next steps

Right now, the war room's main task is to define and coordinate the Group's return-to-worksite strategy. In some markets, where the situation is starting to improve, these efforts are focused on preparing the return to work according to five principles:

  1. Be prudent, always putting the employees' health first.
  2. Data-driven and evidence-based gradual return plan.
  3. Establish flexible shifts and schedules, if possible taking into account units’ productive and organizational needs.
  4. Always follow strict health and safety measures.
  5. Establish early detection guidelines.

As the impact of COVID-19 is expected to linger on for some time, other units will start taking the lead in operational processes, in an environment that requires everyone to be able to constantly learn and adapt. In this sense, BBVA is complementing the war room's role by creating a Business Execution (BEx) team, which will provide the structural capability to manage day-to-day operations to ensure quality and the timely management of all critical processes.