Finextra Q&A: Jeff Dennes, chief digital officer, BBVA Compass

Finextra Q&A: Jeff Dennes, chief digital officer, BBVA Compass

BBVA Compass has developed a reputation as one of America's most forward-thinking banks. Last year Jeff Dennes joined the team to lead its charge into the digital era. He talks to Finextra about what being a chief digital officer entails and the bank's relationship with the fintech community.

Q: Francisco Gonzalez, chairman of BBVA Compass parent BBVA, has said that in the future the bank will be a software company. How do you, in your role, contribute to making this a reality?

A: As the Chief Digital Banking Officer, my role is to transform BBVA Compass into a fully capable digital bank, ensuring that we are leveraging best practices and solutions across the BBVA Group. I’m working with my team to create an anywhere, anytime, all-the-time customer experience, and that begins with a “digital first” development mindset. Customers expect to be able to conduct their financial lives online and so we must begin thinking about products and product design in that way – how can we make their lives easier by using digital channels? The most recent product we launched to support this was our ClearSpend prepaid card, which comes with a budgeting app. The product was designed to provide clients better control of their finances in a convenient, easy-to-use way.

Q: What’s the role of the branch in the era of online and mobile banking?

A: Branches will play an important role, even in the face of an increasingly digital world. We see them transforming into something akin to a retail delivery store, a place clients visit when seeking assistance with more complex banking needs.

Q: How do you think the relationship between established banks, fintech startups, and larger tech firms such as Apple and Google will develop?

A: We see fintech as partners in the ongoing banking revolution, changing the way we deliver solutions to clients. I think the relationship between banks and fintech startups is symbiotic, not unlike their relationship with big tech firms like Apple and Google, which can provide platforms for digital disruptors to reach their customers. BBVA Compass works with fintech startups in a variety of ways, whether through acquisition, like with Simple, investment through BBVA Ventures or commercial agreement. Globally, BBVA also holds a startup competition, BBVA Open Talent, which just wrapped its seventh year. We want to take banking in the 21st century in a bold direction, and the bottom line is that we will be collaborating with these startups and industry disrupters to do just that.

Q: BBVA Compass has opened up its platform to payments network Dwolla. Why did you make this move and what results have you seen?

A: Dwolla’s real-time network fits well with BBVA Compass’s real-time core banking platform, giving BBVA Compass account holders the ability to bypass conventional networks, reducing the time it takes to clear payments to seconds instead of the typical 2-5 business days. For us, working with Dwolla was both a way to further our own digital transformation and give tangible evidence of the impact of a real-time economy to consumers and businesses.

Q: How closely do you work with Simple? Have you found that their startup mentality and approach is significantly different to BBVA Compass’s?

A: Simple is a digital banking alternative that empowers users to better control their finances and it has created a new standard of customer experience. Acquiring Simple fits well with BBVA’s overall plan to lead the banking industry in digital transformation and grow in the U.S., with the understanding that both companies would be committed to Simple’s autonomy. Even so, we do share best practices and plans are underway to migrate Simple’s customers to BBVA Compass’s core platform.

Q: BBVA Compass economists recently claimed that the blockchain could become banking’s biggest disrupter. Do you agree and how do you foresee the technology changing the FS industry?

A: I agree with our economists that the blockchain has very real potential to change the way goods and services are paid for and exchanged, and anticipate we’ll continue to learn more about this as the technology advances.  

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