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“Spain is doing something very well: not putting up barriers to banks that come from abroad”

Conversation with Arturo Perea, General Director for Spain of BiG. January de 2021

The Banco de Inversión Global (Banco BiG) is a Portuguese bank founded in 1999 that started operating in Spain last November. It is the second country to which it has expanded, after Mozambique in 2016. BiG defines itself as an innovative bank, one hundred percent digital, that helps clients invest and save. At the moment it has a single office in Madrid located on Serrano Street.

Arturo Perera is the General Director for Spain of the company. Mr Perera, who has more than ten years’ experience in the financial sector and has worked for firms such as GBS Finance and Atlas Capital, meets us a few days after the launch. He assures that the pandemic has done the business good. “Our branch is the mobile phone. These platforms have experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic because people spend time at home”.

M.I.A.: Spain is the second country in which BiG is expanding. When and how did you take this decision?

A.P.: We had been considering the idea of entering the Spanish market for many years. But there was a restructuring of the financial system that did not finish consolidating. We waited until a small number of entities remained after the mergers and acquisitions. The big ones are bigger and many of the savings banks have disappeared.

Last year we decided to take the leap. It is a natural market for us, not only because of how similar we are, the Spanish and Portuguese, but also because the market is ten times bigger than ours. The ability to generate business in Spain is much greater than in Portugal. That is why we opened here.

M.I.A.: Was there room in the market for a new digital bank?

A.P.: Yes. We entered with a savings and investment bias: to help investors create a piggy bank, money to complement their retirement. That is the problem we deal with on a daily basis. Many entities that do many things had left such initiatives gathering dust in a drawer.

The money for retirement is going to be less. We have an inverted population pyramid: people live longer, fewer children are born, those at the bottom earn less, and those at the top spend more. Based on this premise, it made sense to create a bank in Spain that focuses on providing value and investment solutions impartially, with an open architecture. We do not offer our own products; we offer what we think are the best products on the market. We focus on providing services and support to savings and investment clients.

M.I.A.: What type of client is Banco BiG looking for in Spain?

A.P.: We have a product for all Spaniards. That is why we do not have an opening limit, because any investor can open an account, from as little as one euro, at no cost and start managing his savings. That’s our DNA – helping people meet their investment goals. If we were to set a very high minimum, we would have a conflict with what we stand for. Our target client ranges from the one euro client to clients with greater wealth who have managers or are self-managed and can find in BiG everything they need, from investing in the stock market, to subscribing deposits and so on.

M.I.A.: How are these first days of attracting new customers going?

A.P.: It is working very well. We are opening lots of new accounts. Many come for the 1% deposit, which is a gift, a display of goodwill for the Spanish people for allowing us to enter the market. What we would like is that the people who have made that deposit begin to test our investment tools. Let them realize that after the deposit there is a lot more on offer, a wealth of products and services. They will stay with us.

M.I.A.: One of your products is the investment platform. What reception is it having among the Spanish people? How will it develop?

A.P.: Being a digital bank it is very important that we retain a human factor. People invest to meet goals. It takes a human component, someone to answer your questions and help you with the investment strategy. BiG provides the platforms but also accompanies you if you need it. That is our business model.

We have created two platforms: Simple Trading and Advanced Trading, one for less experienced investors and the other for more experienced investors. The pandemic has affected everyone, but it has helped us because it generates a culture in which the customer manages money issues from home. We don’t believe that street-level branches are the future. Our branch is the mobile phone. These platforms have had a tremendous uptake during COVID because people were at home, had more time to invest, and many non-tech people have tried them out. We are seeing clients who were used to the traditional branch banking model investing through our platforms. Things have indeed been going very well for us.

M.I.A.: How was your experience of setting up an office in Madrid? 

A.P.: It’s been 18 months since we set foot in Spain. Our first port of call was the Bank of Spain, because for us it is very important to be a regulated bank. That gives Spaniards a lot of confidence. We put all the savings under the same umbrella, so stock market investors can get out when they see moments of volatility in the market and be in low-risk products without changing banks. We are a Spanish entity that offers a full range of services.

Then we went to the CNMV. We established the base and once registered as a Spanish bank we looked for an office. We wanted an emblematic office in Madrid; the corner of Serrano with Juan Bravo was a centric location, perfect for clients who wanted to drop by so that we could tell them what we do. I chose it together with the Council, who gave me their approval. And from there we have gone from strength to strength.

M.I.A.: How many employees do you have and how many do you expect to have in the future?

A.P.: In Portugal there were around 50 or 60 people working exclusively for the project in Spain, and another 23 working in the Madrid offices. So there have been about 80 people involved in total. We asked friends and family to test that everything was going according to plan, and we launched, and we are delighted, this is non-stop!

We employ people with all kinds of backgrounds. Just as we need creative and marketing people, I insist that my teams take to the streets to understand what the Spanish want. It is not just about putting up ads, it is about putting up ads and knowing what attitudes we savers have. We have creative, technical people, specialized in finance and markets and operations. What I’m looking for when hiring someone is that they are enthusiastic and are willing to work hard. We are a new bank, and we have a few years ahead to consolidate, grow and catch up with Spanish banks that have been around for years.

M.I.A.: Do you think the bank will one day have a technical team working exclusively for Spain?

A.P.: Of course. Our commitment is strong. We believe that the Spanish market is very attractive, and we are betting on having total autonomy in Spain, with all the departments that are needed to go it alone.

M.I.A.: When choosing a venue, was any other Spanish city considered? Why did you choose Madrid?

A.P.: We had no preference for Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, or Seville… I was in Madrid at the time and we set up the HQ here, but I look in great detail at what happens in the largest cities in Spain. We will not only provide services from here, but we are also likely to be there soon too.

M.I.A.: Other new banks say they choose Madrid because of its proximity to the institutions. Is that the case with BiG?

A.P.: We have to grow. We are a digital bank. Our idea is not to open branches at street level, but to have reference offices in Valencia, Barcelona and Seville. As time passes and we grow, we will have representatives throughout the whole of Spain. There is a human element, and it is very important to be able to sit down with someone to help define goals and save.

M.I.A.: Have you had time to get to know Madrid’s fintech ecosystem? How do you see it?

A.P.: We have a team that looks for opportunities in the fintech world. The person who leads it is in Lisbon. He sifts through all cities looking for opportunities. And we have a fund specialised in detecting startups with potential. Why? We are a solutions bank; we do not have our own architecture, but we try to integrate the best investment ideas into our model. You will soon see how we incorporate disruptive solutions that come from the fintech world. We have created a coworking space only for fintech companies, something that we would like to replicate in Madrid.

Sometimes we invest in these companies. When we don’t invest, we offer their services on our platforms. We are not a loans, credits and cards bank, but we are aware that there are companies that break the mould and offer products that two or three years ago nobody knew about. When we say that we can provide a digital solution, we have to take them into account.

M.I.A.: Have you received support from the Madrid administration? How could they help a foreign company that has just arrived in Madrid?

A.P.: At the moment we have not had any particular help from the City Council, only contact for regulatory reasons. Every time they have asked us for something, we have done it. We would love them to help us, especially in something that Spain is doing very well: not putting up barriers to banks that come from abroad, banks who offer something that makes sense for Spaniards. If I could ask the Administration for something, it would be for them to help us promote savings. We have a team that already creates content and webinars so that people can become familiar with the idea. We are open to participate in any event that Madrid invites us to.