BBVA Leader Discusses Digital Banking Success with Amelia

By Juan Martinez, Senior Writer
May 28, 2020 • 7 minute read

We spoke with Sergio Torres, Director of Strategy & Innovation at BBVA Mexico, about the company’s work with IPsoft and his perspective on the bank’s plans for conversational AI.

In June 2018, BBVA and IPsoft formally announced a partnership to develop digital customer support services powered by Amelia. The solution was designed to optimize user experiences when interacting with BBVA. Mexico was the first region to trial this new technology in its contact center to help address customer complaints and inquiries. Following the success of the project, BBVA decided to expand the use of digital assistants into other areas and markets with the goal of developing digital sales, advisory and support services, and providing customers a fully digital experience.

Earlier this year, BBVA was recognized by Global Finance Magazine as the Best Investment Bank in Spain, Mexico, and Turkey. BBVA was also given the title of Best Investment Bank for New Financial Technology in Latin America.

We spoke with Sergio Torres, Director of Strategy & Innovation at BBVA Mexico, about the company’s work with IPsoft and his perspective on the bank’s plans for AI.

Congratulations on being named the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Mexico! Can you tell us a bit about your bank’s overall philosophy with regard to customer experience and service?

BBVA has been (aiming) for many years to become the best banking experience in this new digital age. This has to do not only with the products and services that we make available for our clients, but also with a transformation of internal processes and teams and the use of information (Big Data) to design the best financial products.

We have also understood that a financial products and services offering is no longer exclusive to financial institutions. Competition is also coming from the FinTech ecosystem and tech companies. In Mexico we understood these new changes and we have created financial products and solutions using a new value proposition for our clients based on four pillars: customer-centric design (User Experience), Data Usage; offering our solutions in apps and devices in a simple and accessible way (Digitization); and providing an agile service to our clients (Customer Experience). These four attributes are the essential elements to build complete experiences around the specific needs of our clients.

To make this possible, we had to transform our traditional Project Management work methodology to an Agile methodology that uses interdisciplinary teams (scrums) working on a 90-day creation cycle (PIs), and very fast implementation of solutions and products putting the customer at the center of our business.

Products are created with customer-centric methodologies with the goal of creating minimum viable products (MVPs) that are placed in the hands of the customer more consistently. In this way, we can operate in short cycles, with very fast improvements in these MVPs and with them improve the customer experience.

What are the primary similarities and differences between US and Mexican digital banking, and/or Mexican digital banking and other regions?

It has taken several years for BBVA Mexico's efforts to consolidate the future of digital banking and we have made several adaptations to our available technologies. The first milestone was the implementation of an ATM network that today is consolidated as the largest in our country. The second milestone was the implementation of Internet Banking, which today is consolidated as one of the best and with the largest available services to customers. Beside this, we began to develop Mobile Banking which seeks to offer products and services to our clients in a more agile way.

As part of this evolution, an important advancement occurred in 2014 when we became the first institution in the Mexican Financial System to create a Digital Banking area. This was done to provide a completely new banking experience to more than 18 million customers at that time, using a differentiated value proposition based on the profile and needs of each customer, with open innovation and close to the new digital ecosystem.

Talking about differences in a globalized moment is complicated because before the competition was between banks, but today the competition is within companies and technology-based players. These companies have different knowledge and perception of the market, and have been developing a strategy based on customer experience. These new players entered the payments arena and other services, and have focused on identifying their customers' behavior and their consumption patterns.

The decision-making process also had to change to take into account different aspects of these new working methodologies. For example, scrums work very independently making their own daily decisions, following general guidelines that come from both the needs of the client and the head of business development. Therefore, the organization has become a more horizontal, liquid organization that facilitates the decision-making process.

How has data helped guide your digital banking experience? What insights were most valuable to your organization when enhancing customer experience?

In recent years, BBVA has invested in new technologies and new working methods to develop an entirely new value proposition for its clients based on mobile applications. Customer-centric solutions that provide the opportunity to have the bank in the palm of your hand through the most widely used device of our time, the smartphone. Being mobile, we can accompany our clients all the time (24x7) helping them to make better financial decisions in their daily life.

One of the key strategies to develop this new digital banking has been the intensive use of data analysis to increase customer awareness. Through the use of new technologies and big data, the bank analyzes information to offer specific solutions for each client profile. By combining the use of metadata and the bank's strengths, BBVA can identify the needs of its clients, allowing it to move from transactional banking to relational banking and therefore to be closer to the needs of our clients.

Today we offer our customers a whole shelf of differentiated offers through the BBVA app. Among them, they can find one-click loans that are pre-approved loan offers for each client and that are immediately available with just one click in the BBVA app. We also offer several types of insurance with one-click contracting, and each client has a financial check-up within the app that analyzes their financial health using account, loan and balance information in real time.

What part of the customer experience or piece of innovation makes you the proudest? How do you believe this particular change impacted your business and created success?

BBVA has worked hard in terms of innovation and especially in the customer experience area in this last stage of digital transformation. Along the way, we have been pioneers in the creation of new digital native products, like the following:

  • BBVA Send. A mobile application that allows customers to send money using a cell phone number from their contact list. When this product was designed in Mexico, the regulation only allowed money transfers from one bank account to another bank account. One of the drawbacks is that people do not know their bank account number. Send allows associating the cell phone number with a bank account at BBVA and dispersing the money to other cell phone numbers of your contacts. The person who receives it can collect it in cash at BBVA's ATM network or deposit it in their account.
  • BBVA Wallet. Initially, it was created to offer our customers the possibility of making a secure online purchase because it creates a temporary digital account related to their bank account with a different CVV2 number, thus avoiding possible fraud. Now it also offers the ability to turn your cards on and off, set spending limits, discount information, payment history, and payments with NFC technology.
  • Digital Account. Now we offer the possibility of opening a digital account in minutes through our BBVA app without having to go to a branch. With the above, we are collaborating to continue increasing the financial inclusion of our country, and provide our new clients with the possibility of enjoying our Digital Banking products and services.
  • BBVA Plan. This is an application that allows our customers to save money without realizing it because it takes a percentage of each purchase you make and sends it to a savings account. It allows you to set savings goals, periods and amounts.
  • Withdraw Without Card. Using BBVA’s app, we offer the possibility of making cardless withdrawals from our ATMs using codes sent directly to your cell phone. This solution also offers the possibility of sending money to another person using these codes and they only have to go to one of our ATMs to withdraw the money.
  • Pulled Apart. A solution that allows our clients to reserve money for specific purposes without having to open new accounts. It is like having digital compartments within the same account and they are programmed so that the money is automatically reserved each selected period of time.

During last year, we have created more digital native products and services:

  • QR Payments (CoDi). A new way of making payments and collections through QR codes aligned with the Central Bank of Mexico's strategy, with which you can charge your customers regardless of their bank, in an agile, faster and safer way without using effective and without any commission.
  • Open Banking. We have a clear vision of our collaboration and participation in the FinTech and tech ecosystem. We are developing two main strategies around open banking. The first one is the API development market where third parties can have access to a wide range of BBVA products and services. The second one is to collaborate through partnerships with players in the ecosystem, to create new experiences in third-party channels and achieve new solutions for customers.
  • AI Assistant (Blue). It is the new voice-controlled Artificial Intelligence assistant with natural language processing that allows customers to perform a wide range of banking operations, such as expense summary, money transfers, balance inquiries or cardless withdrawal.

Tell us a little bit about your Amelia implementation and your experience working with IPsoft.

As a financial institution, BBVA requires high levels of security and regulation. IPsoft gave us the opportunity to implement Amelia, their Artificial Intelligence engine, within our servers in order to develop our virtual assistant, Blue. This was extremely important to meet the time-to-market [requirements].

What has been the most surprising aspect of the project?

With Blue, we became the first bank in Mexico to transform traditional banking into conversational banking with the help of Artificial Intelligence, which makes it possible to carry out financial operations just by talking to the application.

What do your customers think of Amelia? What is the most common reaction, question or suggestion? Anything surprising or insightful?

Blue has been received very well by our clients, with the understanding that it has continuous learning. The most attractive thing is to be able to interact with our application naturally, especially by voice, giving instructions in a common language and not have to navigate to find the functionality. It has helped to improve the experience of our customers.

Are there any statistics and success metrics you can share about the project? Has Amelia improved resolution times or improved customer satisfaction scores (such as your Net Promoter Score)?

In just three months since we launched it, we had 1 million conversations with our assistant, obtaining a rating of 4.46 on a scale of 1 to 5, and this will improve as the assistant learns.

What are you planning for the next year? Any new experiences or use cases with Amelia?

Blue allows us to have direct communication with our clients and listen to what they need; this year we will attend to what our clients most require of us through their conversations and the use of Artificial Intelligence. Our purpose is to make available several Digital Banking services in Blue. 

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