"The effects of the pandemic are devastating. Along with the irreparable loss of human life, both the virus and social confinement are contributing to a severe economic dilemma that cuts across society, including such susceptible segments like SMEs and the self-employed. At BBVA, we want to be as close to our customers as possible. Mitigating the socioeconomic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is crucial," explained Lidia del Pozo, Director of Community Investment Programs at BBVA. During a webinar entitled ‘Responsible Banking during the COVID-19 Crisis,’ organized by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), representatives from financial institutions from around the world shared their strategies for addressing the pandemic and its impact on society.
Financial institutions share common points of action as they face the impact of the coronavirus, notably: coordinating responses aligned to government-mandated measures; fostering proximity to customers and the most affected segments of the population; communicating quickly, effectively, and transparently with all stakeholders.
Banks in the hardest-hit countries — such as UniCredit in Italy and Spain's BBVA, the only Spanish bank to attend the virtual conference — underscored the importance of tight-knit coordination, responsibility, and foresight as keys to braving the crisis.
"The first thing we did was ensure the health of our employees, instituting across-the-board remote working from the very beginning,” Lidia del Pozo explained to her counterparts. "Reducing the movement of people is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus, both within and outside the bank. In Spain, a good portion of BBVA's central services workforce have been telecommuting since 2014, so this was a natural step and continues to be almost business-as-usual. At present, 90 percent of central service employees and 50 percent of branch office employees from across the bank's international footprint are working from home,” she stressed.
The bank also launched a portal on its intranet that contains up to date information, including health care protocols, advice for employees, as well as a daily questionnaire that tracks the status of the Group's professionals worldwide.
Specific portal on the BBVA intranet dedicated to COVID-19.
Ensuring uninterrupted service
Del Pozo then explained that the bank had “ensured continued operations” and customer support. "Given the nature of our mobile banking applications — our app in Spain has been recognized by Forrester as the best in the world for the past three years — we have continued to provide service as normal,” she explained.
The bank’s undisputed commitment to digitization has allowed customers to carry out the vast majority of their banking transactions from home using either the mobile application, the web site, the BBVA customer phone line, as well as by contacting remote agents.
We have also had to continue providing service at our branch offices
"But we have also had to continue providing service at our branch offices, as per the Spanish government’s state of emergency instructions. To do so, we kept — and continue to keep — offices open that provide this essential service, all the while preserving the safety of employees and customers alike,” she added.
Secondly, Del Pozo detailed actions taken by the bank to support its customers. Specifically in Spain, they include measures to support consumer customers with loan payments during the COVID-19 outbreak; the deferral of rental payments for families living in homes provided by Spain's Social Housing Fund (FSV); making €25 billion available in immediate lines of credit to help SMEs and the self-employed weather the current crisis; and participating in offering a €400 million line of credit from the Spanish Credit Institute (ICO) for companies faced with impacts from the pandemic.
Furthermore, BBVA is helping its non-digital customers in Spain conduct their banking from home and has made it easier for retirees to make retirement withdrawals by using any ATM in Spain, free of charge.
Financial institution leaders from around the world presented their strategies for COVID-19 to more than 100 colleagues from other banks at the web seminar organized by UNEP FI.
Responding to society’s needs
"Thirdly, we communicated a plan to respond to society's needs during this unprecedented situation,” the BBVA Director of Community Investment Programs explained. "We began by securing and donating medical equipment needed by hospitals (ventilators, testing, surgical masks, etc.). The efficient purchasing of this kind of equipment, which had to be sourced from outside Spain — mainly in China — has been key, especially because of the logistics involved and access to suppliers,” she asserted. "In this context, health officials need more than financial contributions: they need the know-how and resources in those markets, which is why alliances with companies like Inditex have been fundamental. Inditex provided the air logistics that transported the materials that were purchased there. Transportation became absolutely strategic,” she concluded.
On Tuesday March 31st, health care supplies to be used in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic arrived at the Zaragoza airport in northern Spain.
In Del Pozo's opinion, supporting efforts with NGOs and volunteers (with whom BBVA Group is now working) is very important at the local level, especially for helping the most disadvantaged. "As well as supporting scientific research in order to find a treatment for COVID-19,” she added, programs that the bank is also developing.
In addition, and as explained by Del Pozo, BBVA has launched a campaign inviting employees to take a stand in solidarity against the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, BBVA employees in various countries can get involved via the ‘Your Contribution is Worth Double’ campaign. The bank will match every euro donated by its employees to the cause.
BBVA is lighting up its corporate headquarters in Madrid every evening
Finally, Lidia del Pozo talked about the bank’s thorough and proactive communication to all stakeholders, led by Chairman and the CEO. She also mentioned that “symbolically, BBVA is lighting up its corporate headquarters in Madrid with a red heart and blue cross as part of a collective tribute Spain is making from its windows and balconies every evening at 8pm.”
More than 100 attendees belonging to UNEP FI member institutions — from as far away as China, South Africa, and Canada — were able to use the virtual meeting to learn from the experience of banks, such as BBVA, that have had to tackle the pandemic head on in those countries hardest struck.