Charles Davis discusses BBVA Compass’s digital
banking and marketing strategy with senior vice president and
director of mobile banking and internet strategies, Alejandro
Carriles, who stresses the bank’s determination to develop its
mobile banking products in house instead of relying on vendors


Spanish banking titan BBVA stuck a toe into
the US retail banking market back in 2005 with the acquisition of
Laredo National Bank. Since then, it has snapped up two more Texas
banks followed by the 2007 deal to acquire Birmingham,
Alabama-based Compass Bancshares.

Today, BBVA Compass operates 716 US branches,
including 368 in Texas, 93 in Alabama, 79 in Arizona, 65 in
California, 45 in Florida, 38 in Colorado and 21 in New Mexico.

BBVA Compass ranks among the largest banks in
Alabama (third), Texas (fourth) and Arizona (fifth) and nationally,
ranks as the 23rd-largest bank as measured by deposits (see
table).BBVA Compass profit

Its US operations have emerged as a strategic
bulwark against the volatility of its Spanish base, and now also
serve as a major font of innovation in mobile banking, developing
cutting-edge tools in collaboration with its Spanish parent that
can be rapidly deployed throughout the bank.

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The bank’s mobile banking development team,
led by Alejandro Carriles, senior vice president and director of
Mobile Banking and Internet Strategies, has launched app after app
in recent months, as the bank seeks to maximize the number of
customers banking by smartphones and tablets.

The flurry of launches followed a year of
intense in-house development after BBVA Compass decided to end its
reliance on vendors and develop its mobile banking products
organically, says Carriles.

BBVA earnings“Moving
development in house was a huge decision, but we found that
whenever we came up with a feature that a vendor liked, they’d be
rolling it out at all of their client banks, or if they couldn’t
roll it out across their client base, it would cost us a fortune,”
he tells RBI.

The complexity, he said, lay not in the app
development – “that’s relatively straightforward work”, he says –
but in making the apps talk across channels and throughout the
bank’s core banking infrastructure, even in the middle of a massive
bank-wide core upgrade.BBVA Compass loans

“We keep saying that it’s like replacing an
engine on a plane in mid flight.

“We had to develop our own middleware to talk
to our core banking system, and to the new core system.”

Having built the chassis for mobile, the bank
launched its version 2.0 app, the industry’s first app that enables
customers without an online banking account to enrol in mobile


Non-web adoption

Opening up the mobile banking market to
non-web customers has resulted in a whole new wave of adoption.
This is particularly important for attracting younger customers,
many of whom are interested in mobile banking but have little
interest in the web-based channel.

“In the past year, we’ve found that 36% of new
mobile users were non-web customers,” says Carriles.

“These are younger, straight-to-smartphone
customers, and they have no interest in the online channel on the
web, only phones and tablets. We must treat the mobile channel as
separate and distinct from the online channel. Would we make a
customer see a teller to get permission to use an ATM?
Never.”BBVA Liabilities

Carriles’ team also recently unveiled version
2.0 of its Android app, as well as a new iPad app, both of which
also allow non-web customers to enroll in mobile banking.

Over the last two years, the bank’s Mobile
Strategies team has launched native apps for the iPhone,
BlackBerry, Android, iPad and PlayBook. Developing the apps in
house makes it easier to add new features based on incoming
customer feedback, he says.

That feedback has proved vital in upgrades to
the mobile banking apps. For example,

BBVA Compass made alignment of the
functionality and the appearance of all of their mobile apps a
priority because customers made it clear that uniformity of
experience was important to them.

That feedback also led to a major feature
separating BBVA Compass apps from the competition: an iTunes-like
appearance, heavy on the scrolling and light on the need for

BBVA earnings“In our mobile apps, if you want to look at images of
cheques, you simply get a stack of them and thumb through them on
the screen.

“This came straight from the customer

The apps allow users to pay bills as well as
view cheque images, transaction receipts, account charts and
payments, and each loads to a full screen and features
high-definition imagery that rival the most attractive digital

As it has added apps on different platforms,
BBVA Compass also has worked to increase its mobile base. A “text
to download” campaign, in which customers could simply send a text
message to ‘4BBVA’ to register to use mobile banking, helped grow
the bank’s mobile base more than sixfold in the past two years.
From June 2011 to June 2012, the mobile base increased by 83%.

Next in the BBVA Compass testing lab: a
virtual personal assistant, Lola, that works like Apple’s Siri, but
for banking-related questions. SRI International, the company that
built Siri, is working with BBVA on Lola, which can not only
retrieve a customer’s bank balance but also can open new accounts
and text chat.

Lola, currently being tested at BBVA Compass,
can answer a whole host of questions, from when the next payment on
a loan is due to what current interest rates look like on auto

All of this innovation is less about
offloading bricks-and-mortar transactions and more about enriching
non-human interaction, says Carriles.

“What we want to do is create human-like
experiences, regardless of channel.

“It certainly helps us, distribution costwise,
if we can take a couple of million phone calls from people checking
account balances and move those towards mobile, but it is at least
important that it makes sense to the customer and that it makes an
even better transaction than the phone,” Carriles adds.

“If we aren’t elevating the transaction
quality, then it all doesn’t make sense.”