Data as a contribution to the common good

Ricardo Martín Manjón, BBVA Global Head of Data, and Juan Murillo Arias, BBVA Data Strategy

We are living in uncertain times due to the repercussions of the pandemic we are confronting. Governments, companies and citizens have been surprised by the speed of transmission and the impact of this unpredictable “black swan”. And yet, we must be optimistic because we have advantages and capabilities far superior to those of previous generations when faced with similar phenomena. A fundamental asset is the speed and scale at which we generate and can share information today.

"We seek to offer clients useful decision-making information to improve their financial health"

In companies, under normal circumstances, and for years now, we rely on the use of data and analytics for multiple purposes. In the case of BBVA, we seek to offer clients useful decision-making information to improve their financial health. We also want to innovate in the fight against fraud in order to protect the money they have entrusted to us. Additionally, we equip our employees with management and communication solutions based on artificial intelligence to best serve our clients, including automation of low-value tasks so that they can focus on the most relevant functions. These are just a few examples of a much broader reality that extends analytical capabilities to all of the group's business units and entities. Indeed, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation is no exception, as highlighted by Isabel García in the editorial for issue 20 of this magazine, where she describes the uses of advanced analytics in order to achieve poverty eradication.

However, we are going through exceptional circumstances to which our organization and all its employees are responding and trying to help in many different ways: from acquiring and distributing resource materials, to disbursing advance payments of pensions and benefits. If the data that we collect has the potential to better understand how the current situation is evolving, why not consider it as another input in BBVA's contribution to overcome this challenge?

From the onset of the pandemic, many governments have complemented sanitary measures with digital tools, achieving--in some cases -notable results in containing the spread of the disease. In parallel, private sector initiatives to mitigate the effects of the pandemic proliferated, as well as calls to action to establish liaisons between public and private entities to properly assess the degree of compliance of the exceptional measures adopted, and assess its effectiveness in the fight against contagion.

To do this, the public sector is collecting data through the digital applications that many governments have developed, either directly or in cooperation with the enterprising community. From the business side, we continue to collect information through our regular digital services channels, an asset which helps us guarantee the continuity of our activity and service to our clients in this new context. Once the information generated is duly anonymised and aggregated, it is capable of describing dynamics that can give insight into the daily situation without using personal data.


Ricardo Martín Manjón, BBVA Global Head of Data, and Juan Murillo Arias, BBVA Data Strategy

For example, the data processed by telecommunications companies is capable of describing mobility flows, and can track the compliance of confinement measures, not individually, but by area. On the other hand, the data on bank card payments used by our colleagues at BBVA Research is helping to monitor the evolution of consumption in light of the widespread temporary closure of on-site commercial activity, and will also help measure how fast the society assimilates the gradual return to economic normality.

In this sense, there are various open database models for the common good. In some of them, both the technological and the analytical weight fall on the side of the corporations, but in others, the analytical functions can be carried out by any entity, such as non-governmental organizations, research centers or universities, if they facilitate access to their data. We chose the latter model when joining the COVID-19 Observatory promoted by the MIT Media Lab. BBVA will contribute anonymous information on consumption patterns in Mexico. This will facilitate the investigation of the unequal effects of social distancing and economic slowdown in the different socioeconomic groups of the country, information that can be used in favor of the most vulnerable.

Ultimately, with time we will have overcome the pandemic thanks to medical achievements, the collaboration and effort of the entire society, and the support of digital solutions such as those described above. However, we will continue to face challenges as far-reaching as the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. If financial data can contribute to these goals, at BBVA, we will continue to explore these avenues as another way to fulfill our purpose: to bring the age of opportunity to everyone.