17 November 2018 – Expansión
An unexpected decision from BBVA. The entity, which has made digital transformation the cornerstone of its strategy in recent years, has just repurchased 166 bank branches from Merlin Properties. According to comments made by the Socimi yesterday, the bank, which had been occupying these branches on a rental basis, is going to disburse €252 million to acquire the batch of offices.
The intention of the bank is to gain flexibility for the daily management of the 2,870 branches that it operates throughout Spain, according to sources at BBVA. Since 2007, the entity chaired by Francisco González has embarked on a policy to divest its main assets, such as its former headquarters in Madrid on Paseo de la Castellana, and other iconic buildings in the capital. Between 2009 and 2010, the entity sold more than 1,000 branches to investment funds.
As one of the conditions of those operations, BBVA committed to remain as the tenant of the branches for between 20 and 30 years, with the possibility of extending those rental terms and ultimately repurchasing the properties.
“Some of the branches that have been repurchased are closed and even so, we have still been paying the rent”, explain sources at the bank. That was one of the reasons that caused BBVA to take a different step in its strategy.
In the sector, experts believe that BBVA’s new course of action with the repurchase of branches may respond to a double objective: to reduce recurring costs due to the payment of rent and to take advantage of the upward cycle in the real estate sector with the subsequent ale of these premises. In fact, the bank has just closed the operation to transfer around €13 billion in foreclosed assets to a new company.
The fund Cerberus controls 80% of that joint venture, of which BBVA will retain the remaining 20% in order to obtain possible gains. With the ownership of the branches, the bank could also save time to expand or reduce the size of those premises, according to sources at BBVA.
The Socimi is still the owner of almost 700 BBVA branches. The entity rules out returning to repurchase a new batch from that portfolio, at least in the short term. The bulk of the branches repurchased from Merlin are located in cities with medium-sized populations.
To accelerate its digital transformation, BBVA is planning to close 179 bank branches in Spain at the end of this year. Based on data as at September, the most recent audited information, the entity has already completed more than 80% of the planned adjustment. BBVA’s commitment to digitalisation translates into more business, given that it sells 34% more to those clients considered as online.
The distribution model has changed drastically since 2009 and has focused on digital transformation. In fact, the network is the smallest it has been for 16 years, the latest available data, with fewer than 3,000 branches (…).
Original story: Expansión (by R. Sampedro)
Translation: Carmel Drake