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"In an ultra-competitive landscape, our greatest advantage will continue to be our close relationship with and knowledge of our clients”

Luisa Gómez Bravo, currently BBVA’s Global Head of Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB) — the bank’s wholesale banking department — has an extensive track record in banking. After graduating in law and business administration at ICADE in Madrid, she worked for several years in London for American investment banking firms and in 1998 she moved to BBVA. Since then, she has held various management positions at the bank, and at the end of 2018, she was appointed head of the investment banking unit.

She is passionate about broadening her professional experience by taking on new challenges that arise each day. “I like spreading this enthusiasm and ambition to the BBVA CIB team because I believe that we have a great culture of leadership and an enormous capacity to take on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” she says.

Luisa demonstrates this same passion in her personal life. She enjoys spending the weekends with her husband and four children, ensuring she gets as much quality time with them as possible.

Q: Luisa, you’ve made history at BBVA for being the first woman to run the investment banking unit, a sector that still lags behind in terms of having women in leadership roles. How have you found this experience?

A: It is true that in the world of investment banking there are not as many women in top positions as there should be. Perhaps it’s not something that we’re acutely aware of within the BBVA Group because there are a lot of women in important, decision-making roles, but it is true that since assuming my role, I have caused a certain amount of (positive) surprise among some peers and clients.

It is also true that despite progress made promoting greater gender diversity, in CIB we still have a long way to go. This is an issue that concerns me and that I am actively working to address, as is the rest of the organization. This is why we have to make it a strategic focus, develop plans, and address it like any other business priority. The good news is that there are already a lot of talented women in the unit; we need to develop them and help them step up.

Q: What specific initiatives are you putting in place at BBVA CIB in order to promote diversity? 

A: Promoting and pursuing a diverse and inclusive workplace in the broadest sense is one of our strategic goals. I think we’ve made great strides, and there is no doubt that both the business world and society as a whole today recognize that diversity is a strength. In respect to gender diversity, proof can be found in the fact that many of our corporate clients have women in important decision-making roles for their companies. This gives us something to reflect on  and encourages us to accelerate our own process.

To achieve this, first it is essential to generate solid metrics based on data. This is the only way to avoid emotional debates and to make decisions based on the analysis of the data. Additionally, we should emphasize all those processes associated with identifying female talent and tracking their subsequent professional development and promotion. Finally, I want to stress the importance of work-life balance; a topic that BBVA Group is actively addressing.  This is especially relevant for women about to go on maternity leave who might think their professional development will be placed on hold due to perceived problems of balancing one’s professional life with taking care of a family.

“We should emphasize all those processes associated with identifying female talent and tracking their subsequent professional development and promotion”

All this coincides with the recent announcement  at BBVA Spain of new measures to tackle productivity and work-life balance with the “Work better. Enjoy Life” campaign.  Essentially this is a campaign to promote a change based on efficiency and productivity — breaking with a culture of “putting in the hours” — organizing work based on objectives and priorities.

Specifically at CIB, we have created a “Diversity Think Tank,” a place where we can all learn about, share, and co-create when it comes to topics related to diversity. This is important because it is a responsibility we all must assume. We have also introduced improvements to our selection processes so that we can better attract female talent and provide training especially focused on fighting biases, among other topics.

Q: Now that you have been in charge of the wholesale banking division for almost a year, how would you assess the past months?

A: I would give it a very positive assessment. I joined a unit where I already knew the teams thanks to my previous positions within BBVA Group. This facilitated both a smooth transition for me personally as well as for the deployment of new business initiatives, which thus met with greater buy-in and momentum.

So far this year we have dedicated time to understanding the challenges and opportunities in each of our businesses across our footprint. We defined our mission: to be the go-to financial partner for our clients, providing specialized wholesale solutions and promoting a sustainable future. We reorganized the division so that the structure would be more aligned with the goals established by our mission. And of course, we developed a detailed strategic plan defining our priorities, guiding us with initiatives to be developed over the short, medium, and long term.

All of this without losing sight of our day-to-day business objectives, redoubling our commercial efforts in order to be even closer to our clients. In this respect, the CIB unit reached €2.2 billion in revenues in the first nine months of the year, thanks to our hard work, the diversification of our geographic markets, and the strength of our transactional business.

Luisa Gómez Bravo during the interview

Q: In the current challenging environment, marked by economic slowdown and low interest rates in developed countries, where do you see CIB’s opportunities for growth?

A: In an ultra-competitive landscape, where our wholesale clients receive barely differentiated value propositions from national and international investment banks alike, our greatest advantage is and will continue to be our close relationship with and knowledge of our clients.

To this end, we have defined a strategy based on four cornerstones:

The first is global in nature. CIB is a global business unit within BBVA, and we put our international footprint, which spans more than 30 countries, to work for our clients. This is a differentiating competitive strength. As an example, 70 percent of our clients are “cross-border,” meaning they operate in various countries, and 30 percent of the division’s revenues come from this cross-border business. It is a key factor where we continue to see future value and growth because we are able to accompany and guide our clients as they grow globally.

The second aspect of our strategy is advisory, better integrating our product and service capabilities in such a way that we can elevate the strategic dialog we have with our clients.  This means going beyond merely completing transactions; we must better understand our clients’ ecosystems: their customers, suppliers, and employees.

Our third cornerstone focuses on the digitalization of product delivery and has to do with making products available both in our own platforms as well as on third-party platforms, in order to ensure we have greater access to clients in our natural markets and are able to provide them with even better service.

The fourth and final cornerstone relates to innovation and data analytics. This is so important to CIB’s strategy that we decided to create a dedicated department that reports directly to me, combining our strengths in product innovation and data science. Both the synergies and business opportunities are obvious. This department also leads CIB’s strategy to promote sustainable finance.

These four cornerstones are founded upon a model of operational excellence that helps us reach a maximum level of fulfillment and internal control for the business; optimize the capital; continuously seek efficiency improvements ( the unit’s 36 percent efficiency ratio is well below the average of our European and American counterparts); and proactively manage our talent, which is fundamental to our business.

Q: You mentioned sustainability. BBVA, and specifically the investment banking division, has been an international leader in the development of the sustainable finance market. How would you define the strategy that determines the bank’s success in this area?

A: We have been working on sustainability issues for some time, so we have earned a leading position both in the green and sustainable bond and loan markets.

This last year we have extended sustainability to a greater number of our finance products, oftentimes proving ourselves to be innovators, breaking new ground with what we offer our clients. This is substantiated by numerous achievements such as the first green buyer’s credit and the first green loan completed with an export credit agency, and the sustainable transactional product framework. Within this framework, BBVA launched the world’s first green line of credit.

“The increasing commitment of stakeholders to sustainability will be the most important strategic challenge for our customers in the coming years”

We firmly believe that, along with digital technology disruption, the increasing commitment of stakeholders to sustainability will be the most important strategic challenge for our customers in the coming years. Hence, we see it as our calling to take a role of leadership in providing clients advice on this topic and working hand-in-hand with them during their transition to sustainability. Furthermore, CIB actively contributes to BBVA Group’s Pledge 2025, helping the bank secure €100 billion in green financing for sustainable infrastructure, social entrepreneurship, and financial inclusion.

Q: Luisa, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. We’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there anything else you would like to add to conclude this interview?

A: I would like to conclude by talking about our most important asset, our people. For some years now, we have been operating in a complex environment and will continue to do so, where competition is fierce, and the bar is set very high. In order for CIB to compete, we have to have the best talent; BBVA must be committed to attracting, retaining, and developing this talent. Our teams should feel like they are more than mere participants, they are key players in the transformation of the industry and of our business. This is one of the enduring priorities that is on the forefront of my mind and on the top of my agenda.

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