From unacceptable results to an award-winning program


The following is excerpted from Issue 28 of The Corporate Citizen. To learn how to align CSR with business strategy more effectively, enroll in Corporate Citizenship Strategy at the Accelerated Certificate Summit.

The 2019 International Corporate Citizenship Conference marked the 11th annual Film Festival, which celebrated the work and impact of corporate citizenship programs—as well as the inspiring stories companies use to illustrate the impact of their efforts. This year’s Film Festival opened with a presentation from the U.S. unit of BBVA, a Sunbelt-based bank that operates 672 branches across seven states. BBVA believes its purpose is to bring the age of opportunity to everyone, and this is reflected in the broad array of the bank’s corporate re­sponsibility efforts that span from community reinvest­ment to inclusion and diversity to financial education. 

As Executive Vice President and Director of Communications and Responsible Business for the bank J. Reymundo Ocañas explained, the path to corporate citizenship excellence was not always easy. His frank discussion of BBVA’s lessons learned in corporate responsibility provided an exemplary case study of how to rebound from failure to success. It started in 2014, when the bank received the disappointing news that it had been given a “needs improvement” rating as a result of its Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) examination. This meant that, according to the Federal Reserve and other federal banking regulators, the bank was not doing enough to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they do business, including low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods. 

“It was a reputation-damaging result which disap­pointed our senior leaders and employees alike. As part of a global bank, we knew we had a responsibility to put our capital to work—not just for Wall Street but for Main Street,” said Ocañas. “We are living in an era of respon­sibility, and as companies, this applies to all of us. We have a duty of conscience, which we sought to honor.” 

The bank responded to this news with an internal paradigm shift to reintroduce its purpose into its bank­ing strategy. Over the next five years, the bank commit­ted to invest $11 billion in mortgage and small business lending in LMI neighborhoods, as well as community development lending and investments. It also created a national community advisory board to investigate ways to reach those goals, made up of executives from community-based organizations, community develop­ment financial institutions (CDFIs), and activist groups. The bank further reinvigorated its corporate responsibil­ity program to use its core capability as a bank to provide financial education to 10,000 LMI adults and small busi­ness owners each year. These objectives were supported with strong volunteering efforts, the capacity-building Opportunity Fellows program, and its social enterprise accelerator, BBVA Momentum.

As a result, the bank received an “Outstanding” CRA rating from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in 2018, marking its second improved rating since 2014. Building on that positive momentum, the bank’s global parent company made a recent pledge to mobilize €100 billion by 2025 to fight climate change and drive sustainable development. Ocañas also noted that BBVA has made similar strides in diversity and inclusion, advancing from a low score to high placement on multiple ratings such as the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, and Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index.

Following Ocañas’ story, Evan Matzen, BBVA senior vice president and director of corporate citizenship, moderated a panel conversation between Ocañas and Janie Barrera, founding president and CEO of LiftFund, a small-business-focused CDFI and one of the bank’s community advisory board partners. 

“You need good people to build something, and BBVA has been an amazing partner for us,” said Barrera, who used the BBVA’s Lending and Learning Center in San Antonio, Texas, as an example of a program that achieved mutual benefits. “We collaborated with the bank to learn how we could align, and this solution was something that worked for everyone.”

To learn how to align CSR with business strategy more effectively, enroll in Corporate Citizenship Strategy at the Accelerated Certificate Summit.