The coronavirus pandemic is not derailing BBVA USA’s expansion plans.
The U.S. subsidiary of the Spanish multinational Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria said Tuesday it plans to open 15 new branches in Texas, a state that already makes up more than half of BBVA USA’s total network.
While customers turn to digital channels to practice social distancing, Cody Sparks, the bank’s relationship model discipline leader, said there will still be a desire for in-person branch visits once life returns to normal. However, BBVA customers may notice a change in branch format.
"We've been very focused on blurring the lines between digital and physical," Sparks told Banking Dive. "What that experience looks like in our branches is that all of our bankers and even our tellers are fully trained on how to use our mobile banking capabilities. And they serve as technology facilitators in our branches."
BBVA’s new Texas branches, which will be located in areas such as Austin, Houston and San Antonio, won’t have teller lines and will instead feature a "personal banker bar," Sparks said.
The new model, part of a five-year strategic plan the bank launched this year, reflects BBVA’s ultimate goal to do away with the traditional teller role and replace it with an employee that can perform expanded tasks, such as onboarding customers to digital channels and originating accounts.
The bank is training new employees across its 641 branches in the new skills, and plans to retrain existing tellers.
"All of the remaining tellers that we have, we’ll go ahead and re-skill them. We estimate that will probably be completed sometime in 2021," Sparks said.
The bank is considering bringing the banker bar format to its existing branches, too, Sparks said.
The 15 new branches will be located in areas featuring "a good mix of both rooftops and businesses," Sparks said, adding they will be at least three miles from an existing BBVA location.
"These are areas where we saw a diverse growing community. And we felt that we could bring not only the physical branch but also our digital capabilities there," he said.
Six of the branches will be located in low- to moderate-income communities, Sparks said.
The branches will be smaller than typical BBVA locations and, for the most part, will be attached to retail centers. Sparks said the bank is also taking COVID-19 into account and will build the branches with social distancing guidelines in mind.
Like many other institutions, the pandemic has shifted BBVA’s customer interactions to a predominantly digital environment, and BBVA has accelerated certain projects as a result.
Sparks said the bank was in the middle of a pilot program called "branch digital assist," where bankers called customers as part of a financial health check. The bank uses data analytics-driven models to determine potential sales or service opportunities with certain customers.
"That was one of the things that we deployed, very quickly, in response to COVID, because with the decreased foot traffic and a decreased availability to our lobbies, we wanted to be able to both reach out to our customers and see how they're doing," Sparks said. "I think customers are even more eager to hear from their bank — and also be able to offer products and services remotely so that the customers and the bankers could remain in a safe place."
BBVA said it plans to open the new Texas branches in early 2021.