ALEJANDRO VALENZUELA

Mexico 2020 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

Banco Azteca's USD1-billion investment in digitalization is currently paying off during the pandemic, with more than 9 million users of its app daily.

Alejandro Valenzuela
BIOGRAPHY

Alejandro Valenzuela has a degree and master's in economy from UCLA and a doctorate in administration and project evaluation. He previously worked in Mexico's Central Bank and the Secretariat of Finance for over 13 years. In the private sector, he was director general of Grupo Financiero Banorte for almost seven years and is currently Director General of Banco Azteca.

In what way has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way Banco Azteca makes decisions?
This pandemic has changed the horizon of decision making within companies. Digitalization is imperative, namely bringing clients through different channels, ensuring there is no friction, staying open 24/7, and having the capacity to deal with cyberattacks. Banco Azteca has more than 15 million clients, almost 2,000 branches, and operates in the physical world every single day of the year. Our priorities have changed. The first thing we made sure of since we are an essential industry is that we had to operate in the safest way possible, and that took us by surprise because no one was ready for this. Unfortunately, we were behind the curve with this pandemic. We had to increasingly make sure employees and customers felt as comfortable as possible during this pandemic. Running the show today is important for us because we provide credit for the popular Mexican sector. We are present in Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Peru, and our model requires people to work closely with our clients.

What main trends have you seen in this sector, and what do you foresee for the rest of the year?
There is naturally an increase in demand for credit because other banks have closed or reduced the amount of credit they are allocating. People tend to use us as a lender of last resort or last opportunity in the formal sector, and that frequently happens during crises or downturns. The kind of credit we can provide is either personal or consumer credit. Today, we have been concentrating heavily on providing relief and support to those who need it the most.

What investments did Banco Azteca make in terms of its digital transformation and services prior to the pandemic?
Over the past three years, we have spent close to USD1 billion in the digital world. Today, we have over 9 million clients who use our app on a daily basis. Our app is extremely user friendly and easy to work with, and we have seen the number of transactions increasing. This platform was started four years ago, and today we are competing with Bancomer as the most widely used app in the financial sector. In 2020, we will definitely reach 10.5-11 million clients, and we are seeing an acceleration of the trend because of the pandemic. People are using digital apps more than ever, so I am glad we are ready for this one.

What can be done to encourage more collaboration between the private and public sectors and ensure the Mexican economy continues to move ahead?
I see the three Cs as being important; the first is good and open communication to make sure people understand what is going on. You also need to make sure there is solid coordination, which means different entities need to do what each one is supposed to in order to help address the issues. The last is cooperation, because if people are willing to work on the same wavelength, then initiatives between the public and private sectors will not be handicapped. We need to focus on communication, cooperation, and coordination to make sure that we are doing our best to address what is ahead of us. At this time, it is an enormous challenge that requires the best from us all.

What are your next priorities regarding projects that Banco Azteca will be investing in over the coming years?
At present, we are putting a great deal of attention into cybersecurity, a major issue for any institution operating in the digital world. If you cannot make your operations safe, your clients feel safe, and the system as bullet-proof as possible, you are likely handicapping yourself. Companies need to use all the data available through the digital world by utilizing AI to make better decisions and better understand clients to determine their needs and consumption patterns.