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Innovation 22 Oct 2018

“We are creating a new bank”

This week, Spanish newspaper El Español will honor Francisco González’s professional career with a Los Leones award. On the occasion of the award, the current BBVA Group Executive Chairman sat down for an interview with the online newspaper to discuss the present and future challenges facing the banking industry at large, and his bank in particular, including his retirement from office, scheduled to take place on December 31, 2018. At BBVA “we’re creating a new bank,” he says. Now the institution customers are more satisfied, more likely to recommend the bank and more loyal.

Francisco González throws in some numbers to make his point about the bank’s progress. “This year, 50 percent of our customers will be digital and next year 50 percent of them will be mobile. Digital sales already account for almost 40 percent of the total, compared to less than 15 percent just two years ago,” explains Francisco González. With these figures, “imagine how far these percentages can grow in five years’ time.

In the words of BBVA’s Group Executive Chairman, the institution is “tackling a tremendous change process that encompasses our values, our culture, the ways we work, and that’s something you can’t rush. In terms of scope and intensity, no other bank in the world is doing what BBVA is doing right now.”

“Fierce” competition

Talking about the increasingly prominent role of tech giants in the economy as a whole and the banking sector in particular, BBVA’s Group Executive Chairman said that  “the financial world will change.” “Competition is going to intensify and it’s going to be tougher.” However, he believes that regulators will limit the role of these online titans. Francisco González forecasts that a new league of competitors is going to emerge, formed by these companies, but also by startups and banks. “Competition will be fierce and there’s not going to be room for everyone,” he says. “BBVA will clearly be there. We’re ahead of the game globally.”

BBVA will clearly be there. We’re ahead of the game globally

Francisco González stresses the importance of regulation in this new environment, especially after recent cases such as Facebook’s. “Regulation is necessary,” but “needs to be fair. It has to create a level playing field for everyone.” This regulatory architecture has to be able to protect consumers, prevent the formation of monopolies that may compromise the system and financial stability, and promote innovation. “This is what’s on the table right now:” the creation of a new legal framework that conforms to the new economic and social order, he explains.

The role of regulators will include supervising the consolidation wave that, in his opinion, is going to sweep across the banking sector in the coming years. “Our vision is that there will be less banks across the world,” he says.

Regulation needs to be fair. It has to create a level playing field for everyone

About the current macroeconomic scenario, he acknowledged the uncertainty that comes with the rise of a new economic and social order, the end-of-cycle in countries such as the United States, skepticism towards globalization and the trade wars. However, his view in the medium to long-term remains optimistic: “Technology is going to enable the creation of tremendous wealth.

An early vision of digital transformation

In the interview, Francisco González looks back at the early days of his career, and the 15 years he spent working in the tech industry, which have had a huge “influence at many stages of my life.” This interest for technology has always been there throughout his career, and was key for making the decision to commit to it to transform the bank in 2005. “That was already 13 years ago, and, despite the errors we’ve made along the way, we’ve made substantial progress.”

In 2014 Carlos Torres Vila was appointed head of the digital unit and a year later, CEO. Since then, BBVA has been looking for the recipe to “build the right team. And we’ve done it.” That is why he considers that the time has come to step down and make room for a new leadership. Regarding who will be the new CEO, he explains that “Carlos has to work things out with the Board of Directors, and has complete freedom to build his team.”

Carlos has to work things out with the Board of Directors, and has complete freedom to build his team

Wrapping up the conversation, Francisco González discusses the importance of principles in management: “principles not only imply making sure that everything we do is legal,” but also “refrain from looking for legal loopholes to keep our level of compliance at the bare minimum.” BBVA’s Group Executive Chairman also weighs in on some of the most relevant decisions he’s had to make throughout his career, such as not taking part in BBVA’s IPO or in Spain’s “bad bank” Sareb.  “We’ve always drawn great strength from our principles,” he concludes.

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