BBVA Creates Next Technologies Unit; Tests Selfie Payments

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BBVA is doubling down on its digital transformation programme, merging two units to create an engineering company that will be home to 1200 tech staffers working on everything from cloud computing to AI to blockchain.

Spain's BBVA has long positioned itself at the forefront of the digital banking revolution, with chairman Fransisco Gonzalez vowing as far back as 2015 to turn the firm into a software company.

The latest step on this journey sees two existing group companies - cloud and big data specialist Beeva and the cybersecurity-focussed i4S - merged to create BBVA Next Technologies.

Comprised of 1200 tech experts in Spain and Mexico, BBVA Next Technologies will seek to drive the bank's transformation using big data, AI, blockchain and cybersecurity.

However, it is cloud computing, where BBVA says the unit will really shine. The bank already works with the big three cloud players - AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure - and has over 100 certified employees in these platforms.

Ricardo Jurado, CEO, BBVA Next Technologies, says: "BBVA Next Technologies is a company that specialises in emerging and disruptive technologies, that strives to stay ahead of the curve, looks at the future and aims to recruit the best tech talent."

The bank's efforts to adopt new technologies was illustrated earlier this week when it showed off a new facial recognition payment system. Currently being trailled by thousands of BBVA staffers in Madrid, the system has been developed by Veridas, a biometrics firm set up by BBVA last year.

Customers in the bank’s restaurants simply have to smile (or not, depending on their mood) at a camera booth next to the cash registers, and provided they have registered, the system identifies them and automatically bills them for the purchase.

In the bank’s cafes, colleagues can also use the dedicated Selfie & Go app to order their drinks ahead, with the system automatically charging them when they collect.

BBVA says that it plans to develop the system further - while at the moment it can only be used to take payments for pre-set meals and drinks, the next iteration should allow the system to actively scan the customer's tray and to bill them for what is on it.