Interview: Iñigo de Basterrechea Meunier
Photo by Lee Woolcock
Iñigo de Basterrechea Meunier, Managing Director, Corporate Banking, 40, Spanish
The banking world is obviously very controversial at the moment. When I go to a dinner party and I’m asked what I do, there is usually a pause and then someone will change the subject.
I would say that in general people don’t know that much about the financial system. There are healthy banks and unhealthy ones, those that have weakened the system and those that remain strong. Not all banks are the same.
Unfortunately, the press only wants to talk about scandals. It is human nature and normal to tar everyone with the same brush, but it’s also unfair. I have huge Catalan companies within my remit and small ones too and it’s my job to make sure we provide an excellent service to all of them.
We take good care of our Spanish clients because we can. We are solvent. At the moment in Spain, we are in a regressive cycle, but because BBVA has a strong presence in Latin America, the U.S., Turkey, and China, and are involved in many sectors, we have a lot of leverage.
I’m from the Basque country. I arrived in Barcelona three years ago after working for BBVA in Valencia. I was looking after the public sector. A big area and quite a controversial one. I love it here—the unique architecture, the “mar i montanya”, the Borne, the Gotic, the agreeable weather. The gastronomy is also quite good, although not as good as Bilbao of course.
I got into banking by accident. I went to the US to Boulder, Colorado for a year and a half when I was younger, initially to improve my English. While I was there, I started working in a private bank, with significant quantities of money, looking after very rich clients. It was a great experience, so when I got back, I applied to the finance school of BBVA and took a two-year Masters.
Straight after the course, I went to Madrid, then I became the director of the Castilla de la Mancha public sector. After that, I was in Alicante; it appears to be a very small province but it has around two million people, and it has a diversified industrial base: tourism, toys, turron, and agriculture. It’s very dynamic and I learnt a lot there.
Spain’s economy is in poor shape for many different reasons. The crisis happened at the point where as a country we had invested so much in real estate and construction, there wasn’t enough left for the sectors that invest in R&D—something Spain needs very much. Real estate was the main sector attracting inward investment at the time. If we had spread the investments out to other sectors, we’d be in a healthier position.
The structural reforms are going some way to strengthen the economy, but they need to go a lot further. The crisis will not be rectified within six months, so in the meantime, people are suffering and there is high unemployment. We still have a black-market economy and people are being supported by their families. We have to find a way to grow without putting the deficit at risk. There will be a recovery, and I predict it will start at the end of this year, but it’s going to be slow.
Economics is not an exact science. It’s a mix between numbers and social conditions. The clearest example of a way forward can be seen with John Nash, an economist, whose theories were discussed in the film, A Beautiful Mind. He studied price wars, oligopolies and monopolies and showed how, actually, for companies and countries, competing and cooperating are equally positive, and how from that combination, everyone ends up winning.
My advice for the coming months? Be cautious where you get your advice from, and remember to only trust the solvent banks. If you are investing, diversify your investments rather than putting all your money in one sector or market. Finally, plan. There is a lot of inertia about personal finance, but being careful now will pay off in the end.