The digital transformation of the world’s banking industry is a critical evolution that’s needed to ensure the sector stays relevant to its customers and clients.
As more and more people expect and demand an increasingly joined up, effective and personal service from those with whom they entrust their money and data, the way in which this evolution must happen is also going to change and accelerate.
At BBVA, the executive charged with keeping the bank at the cutting edge of this paradigm shift, and ensuring the strategy as set out by Executive Chairman Carlos Torres Vila is effective, is Global Head of Client Solutions, Derek White.
And for White one of the most important changes we are seeing is the impact of gamification - with decentralised social interactions - like those seen when people play Fortnite - beginning to have huge impact.
For White, the transformation is not simply about ensuring the bank can take on the challenge of the big tech businesses now encroaching on its turf, but rather that banks must do this because they are the ones best placed to support customers in an age where digital brings both incredible opportunities, but also increasing complexity.
Speaking from the bank’s headquarters in Madrid, White first outlines where, in his view as a leader who has led transformation programmes both at BBVA and in previous roles, the banking industry is currently at.
He said: “The entire sector is going through a disruption that many people have been talking about for years. For me, though, what’s really exciting is to see the convergence that’s happening between technology and the ways in which people use technology, or can use technology, to help make decisions. And how people make decisions about their company’s money.
“This change, about the mechanics of how people make decisions, that’s the area that is most fascinating. It’s also the area where banks have a huge opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives.”
"When I think about the bank of the future, I often think about my sons and how they play Fortnite with their friends"
Asked to explain what he means by this, White points to the changes seen in how people interact with their money today. For example, on average, across BBVA's footprint, the bank sees the average customer visiting their branch perhaps ten times a year. They maybe check their banking app 200 times a year. But, he said, people are living in their digital ecosystems - where they they chat, research, interact, share, spend - thousands of times a year.
So, unsurprisingly, the primary interaction channel for people and their money is now also increasingly changing from physical to digital and banks are unsurprisingly making products and services available in this digital world. And not just available but self-service too with, for example, BBVA’s do-it-yourself number for retail customers already in excess of 92%.
This, though, White adds, requires a fundamental change in approach - best summed up by video games - and one which will be bigger than blockchain!
Fornite was launched in 2017.
He said: “Gaming is having the same level of impact on behaviours and technology as blockchain I think - in fact probably more. When I think about the bank of the future, I often think about my sons and how they play Fortnite with their friends.
“For them, this notion of distributed social interaction - through a screen and a wifi link - is entirely normal, but it's a free-flowing natural mix with face to face too. They might meet their friends for a bit of food and a catch up in town, but later that night they speak to each other over the internet while playing on a console.
“It’s an entirely new model of social interaction, but that’s the challenge for all businesses - to tap into that new way of working, playing, communicating, having fun, transacting, and making their business model align with this. And this change requires us to be increasingly more than purely product providers - its about shifting to advisory and information services too - to meet, and exceed, the customer need.”
Asked why this matters, White added that it was about the two issues of staying relevant - being more present in people's lives - and secondly ensuring you gave the best experience - both in terms of ease, insight and security.
To do this, BBVA´s strategy started with looking at the platforms people used most - for example smartphones and app - and tailoring their business model to this interaction channel.
White said: “The first thing to really understand is that it’s one human above the glass screen making decisions about their money. It's then secondly making those experiences once they are DIY-able and really do-able above the glass, it’s then making them smart, and leveraging the data that the company has, and wrapping every interaction the customer makes with data driven insight to help the customer make better decisions - whether that is buying a product, financing a product, taking part in a marketplace, booking a flight, considering their future career - whatever it may be.
"The next evolution gets even smarter. For example, the bank predicting its customers behaviour and acting on their behalf"
“Then as you make it smart, you then have to make it autonomous, so that where the correct agreements, trust and processes are in place, the customers doesn't even have to make a decision anymore - it can be done for them - freeing up their time, reducing their stress.”
Asked what this could be, the BBVA executive said it could be almost anything, for example automatically moving the right amount of money to a savings account each month - based on predicted outgoings assessed using AI - and sometimes back again to meet billing needs.
Or switching to more favourable credit card rates, or mortgages, or insurance products, or perhaps ultimately, automatically searching for a better deal on a product the customer indicates they want to buy, or a utility bill - and then doing the deal for them.
Beyond that, White also outlines how the next evolution for this human and bank interaction gets even smarter and upstream. For example, the bank predicting its customers behaviour - based either on rules or regularity - and acting on their behalf. This could be things like knowing every year the customer want to travel to see family overseas and watching throughout the year for the optimal time to reserve their ticket for them, while also pre-buying currency at the best rate.
Asked where he saw the future, White said that technology will continue to fuel the pace of change, in a huge variety of ways. For example, cloud based backend systems replacing older in-house core banking platforms - enabling ease of scale and updating. Or high speed APIs - both for internal products and services and increasingly as the sector more from closed to open, third party solutions driven by customer uptake.
He added: “Traditional bankers are having their minds blown now by just what is potentially possible in this industry going forwards, but in BBVA where we are user-centred technologists at heart, it's a playground.
“It’s incredibly exciting to see how technology can change the future of industries, eliminating industries, as well as creating new customer behaviours. So biometrics, wearables, IoT data sets enabling AI powered insights off of which new products will come on stream, and perhaps especially evolved interfaces so the customer can more effectively communicate and get things done with their bank.
“All of this will happen - and all of this much sooner that most people imagine. Well, most people except that is BBVA.”