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Opinion Updated: 21 March 2019

Why digital and data are critical to future business success

In this article, Derek White, Global Head of Client Solutions at BBVA, discusses how businesses should engage in the ecosystem emerging from the data generated by customers to succeed in the digital age.

Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege of speaking at a number of events, outlining the digital transformation BBVA is going through and the opportunities this will bring.

These events are always a humbling experience for me. I get to connect with  customers, partners, shareholders and investors and have the honour of explaining to them what BBVA is doing to drive forward our strategy and make things better for those that work or bank with us. I also get hugely valuable feedback from those I speak with - which irrespective of whether it is positive or critical, all of it makes a significant impact on the way we implement the strategy for this business.

One of the core themes we have been exploring recently has been around data - a topic that as BBVA transitions from a digital bank into a digital company is of critical importance to us.

The reason this matters really boils down to two elements - how as a business we can use data to grow, innovate, and really start to deliver a new era of banking for customers and clients. And secondly, around the ownership of that data - a key battleground that pits on the one hand an new establishment of big tech companies against on the other an increasingly strong coalition of businesses, Governments, analysts and - we believe - customers too.

Data lakes

But to really understand the impact data will have on businesses going forward it’s important to first understand the scale of this resource. Let’s start with this: everyday, humanity generates around 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data. That’s 25 followed by 18 zeros - lets just write that for impact: 25,000,000,000,000,000,000. It’s a phenomenally large number - in fact we had a little fun with this and worked it it is roughly, roughly, the same number as there are drops of water in Lake Michigan - the world’s biggest lake by surface area at more than 307 miles long, or the distance from Madrid to Barcelona.

Given that in your average 1 litre bottle of water there are 20,000 drops of water, you begin to get an idea of the size 2.5 quintillion really is.

And this data comes increasingly from just about everywhere - from Instagram pictures and Facebook likes, from videos of random acts of kindness to sensors monitoring crop growth and from banking transactions to the very words you are now reading.

Data is, to put it bluntly, everywhere.

There is an oft used misconception around data too - that it is the new oil. But really this isn't the case. It’s actually much more valuable because while oil can only be used once and then it's done, data - much like water - can be used time and time again, at the same time actually, and by multiple businesses - each time supporting new growth.

Which brings me to the second part of the two elements I outlined above - data ownership. There is, we believe, an imbalance in the way data is treated at the moment that is not doing anyone (well almost anyone) any favours. That’s because data - again much like water - generates an ecosystem around it and its what you do with your part of that ecosystem that matters, as this video sums up:

BBVA believes the data belongs to the customer and not to the business that stores it.

For BBVA we firmly believe that data belongs to the customer or client that’s generated it - perhaps not all, businesses should be allowed proprietary ownership of insights they generate -  but the underlying resource itself should belong with the originator.

The owner should therefore be free to share their data with whoever they choose - with whomever can create the most value for them from it. This is important because as outlined above, data is being generated almost everywhere you look and as I’ll come onto in a minute, used properly, data is an incredible catalyst for innovation, growth, socio-economic benefit and ultimately helping people make better decisions.

But as things stand right now, there is an imbalance whereby the mega-platform companies are treating the data as their own, hoarding it away and extracting value from it solely for their benefit while monetising - sometimes even charging - the customers who created it.

So, to my first point - how as businesses we can use data?

BBVA has talked about how core the circle of trust is to how we operate. The concept is really that if we always put the customer at the heart of what we do, never breaking their trust, then in turn they will allow us to do more for them. This is never more true than when it comes to data.

We often reference at BBVA how central to our digital transformation has been the shift in consumer interaction to the smartphone. Part of the reason for that is that as people can do more and more themselves via their digital channel of choice, it allows us to offer more and more services which in turn generates more and more data.

Self-driving banks

But the real magic comes when you can - with consent - plug this data into AI tools to analyse what the individual customer might really value or want - and then start offering personalised services straight to them.

If we can use the expertise we have to build specific insights for the customer or client - insights that save them time in searching for products in an increasingly complex digital world, that save them stress worrying about whether they are making the right decisions and ultimately that save them money by making their assets work harder for them - then fundamentally their data is also working harder for them.

We call this smart interactions - using data to build a picture that anticipates decisions needed and prompts answers and opportunities.

And let's be clear here and reiterate, we shouldn’t be the only ones doing this - their financial data, just like their non financial data - should be shareable with whomever they want. Our job is to do a better job than anyone else, so they want to give us their business.

As we look to the future, we believe trust, coupled with smart interactions, will lead to a huge shift in the banking sector whereby banks become more involved in people’s lives, supporting their decision making and protecting all their assets.

Much like the automation we are now seeing in the car industry, banks will self-drive peoples accounts, moving money, switching providers, pre-emptying decisions and anticipating needs.

But it all starts with access to data and the ability of customers to choose their partners freely.

Which is why - headlining grabbing though it is with HBOs smash series about to conclude - we really do mean it when we say we have to listen and understand our customers, understand how they interact with their money and data and it is our duty to ensure they really do Win the Game of Data.