“Big banks are the worst,” says a big bank

BBVA chairman Francisco Gonzalez presumably isn’t offended.
BBVA chairman Francisco Gonzalez presumably isn’t offended.
Image: Reuters/Susana Vera
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Big banks are terrible. That’s the message splashed across internet ads from Simple, the buzzy banking upstart that reminds consumers that it was “your big, terrible bank” that helped tank the global economy back in 2008.

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The thing is, Simple is no longer a scrappy startup providing an alternative to consumers fed up with their banks. It’s part of a big bank, too.

Last year, Simple was swallowed up by Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) for $117 million. BBVA operates a global network of banks across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It has €650 billion ($690 billion) in assets, dates back to 1857, and is Spain’s second-largest bank by market value.

This hasn’t stopped Simple from trying to cater to people who are angry with large, traditional financial institutions.

Simple is one of several alternatives that launched in the aftermath of the financial crisis, aiming to pounce on a playing field left open by legacy banks too hamstrung by their own business pressures and increased regulatory scrutiny to fight off smaller competitors.

Banking’s global heavyweights have quickly caught on, though, and have been putting millions of dollars toward buying up or investing in these startups. In addition to buying Simple, BBVA has invested in peer-to-peer lending website Prosper, as well as the bitcoin marketplace Coinbase.

In any case, Amy Dunne, a spokeswoman for Simple, counters the assertion that BBVA is anything like the blood-sucking, vampire-squid banks that Simple’s advertising is asking people to ditch.

“BBVA is not in fact one of those aforementioned ‘big terrible banks,’ but a bit of a pioneer, tearing the back end apart in an effort to offer fully real-time, digital banking,” she tells Quartz via email, noting that BBVA chairman Francisco González is “actively working to evolve the banking business model by focusing on technology.”