Finextra Leadership: Open innovation at BBVA

Finextra Leadership: Open innovation at BBVA

As head of open innovation at Spain's BBVA, Jose Antonio Gallego is in the front line of the digital transformation of banking. He speaks to Finextra about the challenges facing the industry and how BBVA is seeding a new culture of innovation across the bank.

BBVA has firmly set its sights on developing a new business model that can adapt to the changes wrought by the Internet and the consumerisation of IT. In March, BBVA established a digital banking unit to develop new business ideas and nurture internal projects. The division is also responsible for overseeing startup investments made through BBVA's $100 million venture fund and Simple, the US neo-bank it bought for $117 million in February.

BBVA is also looking for inspiration beyond the boundaries of the bank, opening its data to third party developers in search of new ways to connect and engage with its customers.

As part of the bank's open innovation unit, Gallego is tasked with identifying and mobilising "innovation stakeholders" from both within and outside BBVA.

"We work with our own employees, as well as clients, universities and business schools, and third party developers," he says. "This collaboration helps us to understand first-hand what is changing, what our customers expect from us and how to respond to their needs."

The approach can be seen in action through last year's Innova Big Data Challenge which attracted developer talent from across the world to compete for EUR90,000 in prize money by using BBVA transaction data to create new services, applications and insight into consumer demands.

"The result was amazing," says Gallego. "The Challenge generated 144 high quality apps from 19 different countries, showing us new ways of working we hadn´t thought of before. In fact, some of the winners of Innova Challenge have been hired by the BBVA Big Data team because of the skills and merits displayed during the contest."

Buoyed by the success, Gallego and his colleagues have kicked off a new competition, InnovaApps+, in collaboration with Google. The contest - which closes for applications on 30 May and comes with EUR40,000 in prize money - aims to promote the emergence of new productivity applications that can benefit companies and particularly SMEs and entrepreneurs in Spain and Latin America. BBVA will also reward entries that provide added value for the bank's internal use and can integrate with the Google Apps already used by employees.

Promoting an innovative mindset among the bank's employees is a key part of Gallego's brief. To do that, BBVA has created a dedicated Website, BBVA Beta Testers, where staff are invited to access early iterations of apps produced by the development team and test them before they go live, reporting any bugs or suggesting new ideas to help achieve a better end result.

As an enthusiastic videogamer, Gallego was keen to make the experience as engaging as possible, incorporating gamification elements into the platform to motivate and provide incentives to users through the award of badges and points for quality feedback.

"We have created a strong and active community of employees that are working unselfishly," says Gallego. " Personally, it is one of the projects that I´m most proud of."

Gallego joined BBVA in 2007 after a number of years working in the startup environment and following a one-year stint as a community manager at eBay. The experience, he says, has proven valuable as the pace of change in technology and banking has quickened over the past three years.

Looking ahead, Gallego sees Internet commerce companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple as the standard-bearers for digital business success and future competitors to financial services institutions.

Great change is coming he says, but also great opportunities for banks who are able to transition from the analogue world of the 20th Century to meet the more demanding digitally-led standards of the 21st century.

"BBVA is, without doubt, one of the financial institutions that better understands the world´s changes and responds to them," says Gallego. "BBVA is seeking to lead the digital transformation of the banking sector, and innovation is the way forward."

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