Spain-based BBVA is one of the most creative and aggressive global banks when it comes to investing in new financial technology. In part, that’s because they have Scarlett Sieber on the team. Her formal title is SVP of Global Business Development in the New Digital Business Unit but the reality is, in that role, she’s part business developer, ecosystem designer, and marketer.
Scarlett joins us this week on the podcast. We talk a lot about how the role of banks is changing and what thought leaders are doing to stay ahead of the curve and how BBVA’s Open API initiative strives to be the AWS of banking.
We discuss the role of financial ecosystems in determining the future of consumer banking. For BBVA, she’s helped build direct channels in the US into fintech startups, venture capitalists, mentoring and sponsoring at top accelerators, universities, and technology consortia — all in an effort to work together, innovate together, and collaborate together to leverage the talents of all the players in the space.
Below are lightly edited and condensed highlights from the conversation.
The value of the financial ecosystem
The ecosystem is imperative for our strategy. Some organizations are competing by throwing money at innovation centers and interact with startups. Startups are just one piece of the larger puzzle. You have to think about other players in the space. Venture capitalists have a lot of deal flow and have unique perspectives. Accelerators see a ton of startups come through and we spend a lot of time playing a mentorship role at accelerators. Now you’re seeing fintech groups at a lot of the major universities. We also spend a lot of time with our competitors as part of BBVA’s involvement in the R3 blockchain consortium. We look to work together with all the players who are directly and indirectly in the space to provide value and find ways to work together.
Investing in fintech innovation versus partnering
We took the initiative to spin off our venture capital fund and it’s expanded to $250 million now, as well. BBVA Ventures is now called Propel. The idea there is, as a true VC, your true goal is to earn a return on your investments. Other times, it makes more sense to partner with BBVA Compass, like with our relationships with p2p payments, Dwolla and roboadvisor, FutureAdvisor.
When it comes to buying fintech companies, we don’t have an acquisition budget. We buy things that we think are necessary, strategic and relevant to what our initiatives are. Our acquisitions come from heads of departments. One of my favorite acquisitions is a San Francisco-based design shop, Spring Studio. As technology changes and consumers want a beautiful user experience, it made sense for us to buy a company that does it really well and has a great reputation.
We’re also creating startups within BBVA, so there’s a lot of opportunity for partnerships, there, too.
The last piece is our open platform, banking as a service. Shamir Karkal, CFO and cofounder of Simple, has left to become our head of our global, open API platform. In this case, we’re not directly investing in, acquiring or partnering with outside companies but we’re exposing our banking plumbing to the fintech community at large.