BBVA Buys Stake in British Online Bank Atom for $68 Million

  • Purchase will give Spanish lender two seats on Atom's board
  • BBVA bought U.S. digital banking company Simple last year

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA is making another foray into digital banking, acquiring a stake in the British online lender Atom Bank for 45 million pounds ($68 million).

Spain’s second-largest lender is buying 29.5 percent of the U.K. lender, securing two seats on Atom’s board, it said in a statement Tuesday. Backed by fund manager Neil Woodford, Atom received U.K. regulatory approval in June and will be launched in early 2016.

BBVA Chairman Francisco Gonzalez was one of the first European banks to argue that lenders need to adapt to advances in digital technology. The Spanish bank has spent more than 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) on technology since 2011 and bought U.S. digital banking company Simple last year, valuing the company at $117 million.

“We’ve been interested in the U.K. for quite some time,” Teppo Paavola, chief development officer and general manager of new digital businesses at BBVA, said in an interview. “We studied the market and concluded the way to play here is in a purely digital fashion.”

BBVA isn’t the only Spanish bank pushing into the British consumer marker. Banco Santander SA makes most of its profit in the U.K., while Banco de Sabadell SA, the country’s fifth-largest lender, paid 1.7 billion pounds for TSB Banking Group Plc earlier this year.

Atom has raised 135 million pounds in the 18 months since its founding team started to create the bank, Chairman Anthony Thomson said in a statement. Thomson, who helped build Metro Bank Plc with former Commerce Bancorp Inc. founder Vernon Hill, has said he plans to hold an initial public offering in 2018.

(Updates with BBVA comment in fourth paragraph. An earlier version of this article corrected spelling of Vizcaya in the first paragraph.)

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