BBVA wants to take on Sabadell in a new large banking operation that, if completed, will change the structure of the sector in Spain. It would be one more in the history of BBVA, which has become the entity we know now after going through two of the most important banking concentrations of the 20th century: that of Banco Bilbao with Banco Vizcaya, first – the one that gave rise to Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (BBV) – and the one added by the A of Argentaria later. BBVA wants to gain weight again, 36 years after that first merger of the two most important banks of the time in Euskadi and Spain and which placed it at the head of the sector. BBVA is, yes, a story of mergers.

It was 1988 when José Ángel Sánchez Asiain, president of Banco de Bilbao, and Pedro Toledo, of Banco de Vizcaya, signed the merger of the two entities to give rise to Banco Bilbao Vizcaya. BBV was born, the Basque bank that became the largest entity in Spain and which also involved the integration of Banco Comercio (which was from Bilbao) and Banca Catalana (which was from Vizcaya). It was a merger by mutual agreement, not a hostile takeover bid like the one the entity is now proposing to take over Sabadell. But before materializing it, Sánchez Asiáin had attempted a hostile takeover bid for Banesto, although without success. Banesto, now in Santander, did join Banco de Vitoria.

Although the merger of both entities, which had been the financial pillar of the industrial growth of Euskadi, was friendly and the entity was co-chaired by Sánchez Asiaín and Toledo for just over a year, the death of the latter brought to light the differences in the within the board of directors that were already brewing since the merger agreements, demonstrating that in any business union, no matter how friendly it may be, there is always a party that considers itself aggrieved. They were two banks that moved in parallel sectors. The Bank of Bilbao was founded in Bilbao in 1857 as an entity that even had the power to issue its own banknotes. It later became a lending bank and became an essential part of the Basque steel development of the time. In the midst of the industrial boom, the Bank of Bilbao was behind the financing necessary for the emergence of workshops, shipping companies, ironworks, railways, the port, iron mines and companies that little by little gave rise to powerful business families and banks in Neguri, a neighborhood in the Biscayan town of Getxo where many of them lived and which became a hub of economic power.

Vizcaya was born later, in 1901, and although with a very similar market niche, it had less banking tradition and a different culture and business strategy that ended up emerging as soon as Toledo died. Sánchez Asiaín, the architect of the merger, was the main victim, since he had to leave the presidency when the directors of Vizcaya opposed him presiding over the bank alone. Emilio Ybarra, who until then held the position of vice president under the bicephaly of Sánchez Asiaín and Toledo, became president of the entity after a ruling issued by the Bank of Spain because the directors from both branches of the merger failed to close a agreement on your own.

A merger with the public bank chaired by Francisco González

Ybarra presided over the bank alone from 1990 to 1999, when the second major milestone in BBVA's history occurred and one of the most important in the Spanish banking reorganization. Only a few months had passed since the merger of Banco Santander with the Banco Central Hispanoamericano, giving rise to BSCH, when BBV merged with Argentaria. The current A was a bank holding company chaired by Francisco González, a profile completely different from those who until then had directed the Basque bank. He was not a traditional banker, but he was very well connected. A personal friend of José María Aznar, the then president of the Government of the Popular Party placed him hand-in-hand – as he did with other of his friends who he signed to direct privatized public companies, such as Juan Villalonga or César Alierta – at the head of the conglomerate of banks and entities credit institution that had been public, which was created during the Felipe González era and which was completely privatized with its merger with BBV. Before directing one of the most important financial entities in Spain, Francisco González had first been a stock exchange agent and founded FG Valores, then a company that managed stock portfolios and which he sold in 1996, shortly before joining Argentaria, to Merrill Lynch for 3,700 million pesetas. A real hit for González that did not turn out to be as profitable for the buyer. Shortly after the purchase, losses of 800 million appeared that were not detected in the sale audit and although years later the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office investigated that sale, the audit file was accidentally lost in the fire at the Windsor Tower in Madrid. where the auditor Deloitte had its offices.

Francisco González's work history did not fit well with the pedigree of bankers that then prevailed on the board of directors of BBV, but the Basque bank was interested in the merger to grow and a joint agreement, between equals, was proposed. As occurred in the first of the mergers, this agreement once again gave rise to a shared co-presidency, this time between Ybarra and González until 2001. In that year Ybarra left the presidency of the now BBVA in the hands of González, from Argentaria, just four months before it became known that he was involved in an investigation opened by the National Court for the entity's possession of alleged opaque accounts in tax havens. Four years later he was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 27,000 euros for misappropriation, although it was later decided that the proceedings were null and void and the case was archived as no economic damage had been caused to the financial institution.

González took advantage of the issue of fiscal accounts not only to force Ybarra's departure as co-president, but also to show the exit door to several prominent members of the BBV team, such as vice president Pedro Luis Uriarte, one of the 'fathers' of the Basque Economic Concert. In this way, the BBVA stage began with a president of the bank who was not Basque and who was at the head of the entity until 2018, that is, 18 years.

He entered the BBVA presidency through the front door, but left through the back door. Although it was difficult for him to do so, he resigned cornered by the scandal involving Commissioner Villarejo, whom he paid for allegedly wiretapping companies and individuals for the bank.

Coinciding with this presidency of Francisco González, the Basque bank began to be less and less Basque, and the decision centers began to move to Madrid, while the entity became more international. Currently, chaired by Carlos Torres since 2018, it maintains its headquarters in Bilbao, although its operational headquarters is in Madrid. In fact, the iconic tower in Bilbao's Plaza Circular, which housed the bank's headquarters, is occupied by a Primark (the ground floor and the first three) and by an entrepreneurship center of the Bizkaia Provincial Council. Shareholder meetings continue to be held in Bilbao, but the bank does not leave much to the Provincial Treasury of Bizkaia since having more than 75% of its business outside the Basque Country, the common tax regime applies to it. Torres maintains nods to Euskadi, such as making it the headquarters of Next BBVA, which brings together the group's technology companies, or the Frontiers of Knowledge awards that are given annually, but there is no Basque sitting on the Board of Directors. It so happens that if the takeover bid for Sabadell is successful, another Basque banking asset will be integrated, Banco Guipuzcoano, which the Catalan entity bought in 2010. Some offices and the headquarters in Donostia del Guipuzcoano continue to retain that name, but it is increasingly less used. .

Currently the bank is present in 25 countries, although its presence in Mexico is worth highlighting, through BBVA Bancomer (it bought the entity in 2000), where it is the largest financial institution in the country. In fact, last year the business in this country represented 46.7% of BBVA's gross business margin. It has an important presence in other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Chile or Peru. In addition, it is the first shareholder of Garanti BBVA in Turkey and has an important investment banking, transactional and capital markets business in the US. Precisely upon landing in the US, BBVA even became the official bank of the NBA in 2013, already in González's time. Stars of the moment like Kevin Durant or James Harden announced the benefits of what was born more than a century and a half ago.

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