A Standout Performance: Q&A With CaixaBank CEO Gonzalo Gortázar

Gonzalo Gortázar, CEO of CaixaBank, speaks to Global Finance of the bank’s win of Best Bank in Western Europe. 

Global Finance: What drove CaixaBank’s performance in 2023?

Gonzalo Gortázar: CaixaBank’s outstanding performance in 2023 reflected strong commercial activity throughout the year, with a sharp focus on clients and on covering their bancassurance needs. This performance has been backed by the strongest financial position in over 10 years, underpinned by rate normalization and prudent risk and capital management, resulting in sound credit metrics, ample liquidity and solid solvency levels.

In a challenging environment, net profit increased to 4.8 billion euros ($5.1 billion) a 54% rise from the previous year, allowing us to deliver a 13.2% return on equity.

We have created the most competitive financial offering in Spain, which enables us to offer the best solutions for every client. As a result, customer funds grew by €19 billion during the year, a 3.1% increase, with market share in long-term savings standing at 29.3%

Moreover, we maintain comfortable levels of nonperforming assets, with an NPL ratio of 2.7%. CaixaBank also closed the year with strong liquidity and solvency, demonstrating the Group’s balance sheet strength.

Our strength has enabled us to help and serve our clients’ financial needs. This year, for example, we have granted more than 280,000 loans to businesses in Spain and 80,000 new mortgages to families.

GF: Which significant sustainability milestones did the bank hit in 2023?

Gortázar: In 2023, CaixaBank achieved significant sustainability milestones, reaffirming our commitment to a greener and more equitable future.

Through our Sustainable Banking Plan 2022-2024, we are committed to mobilizing €64 billion in sustainable finance. This plan has three priorities: leading in social impact and promoting financial inclusion, driving a sustainable transition for businesses and society, and fostering a culture of responsibility and excellent governance. We’ve already made significant progress in 2022 and 2023, so 79% of our target is already achieved. Through Microbank, the leading microfinance institution in Europe, we granted 145,000 microcredits to families and SMEs [small and midsize enterprises] in 2023. And we have taken on the commitment to gradually reduce financing to companies linked to thermal coal until its complete phaseout in 2030, as well as other specific decarbonization targets for the automotive and iron and steel sectors, which add to those already established in 2022 for the oil and gas and electricity sectors.

In sustainable financing, CaixaBank is the European leader, according to the Refinitiv LSEG ranking, securing first place with 120 transactions valued at $18.74 billion. This not only reflects our growth and commitment to finance the transition but also our capability to lead by example in the financial sector.

GF: How have 2023 digitalization efforts improved the client experience for retail, commercial and corporate clients?

Gortázar: In 2023, CaixaBank has prioritized customer experience as a core element of its strategy. This focus includes enhancing user experience through customization, the growing importance of financial advice, increased mobile interaction and other digital innovations.

CaixaBank leads in Spanish digital banking with a 43.4% market share, as reported by GfK DAM, the official provider of digital consumption data in Spain. The bank serves over 11.5 million digital customers. CaixaBank has continually improved its digital platforms for all customer groups, especially Imagin, the mobile bank for young customers, which serves more than 3.2 million clients.

CaixaBank’s 2023 initiatives include the launch of the Smartphone TPV, streamlining mobile card payments for enhanced user convenience. The bank also has entered a transformative partnership with Google Cloud to leverage cloud computing, data analytics and artifical intelligence  for developing new customer services and accelerating our digital transformation.

Additionally, CaixaBank’s collaboration with the European Central Bank [ECB] to prototype instant payments using the digital euro, along with integrating Bizum for simplified bill sharing via the CaixaBankNow app, will mark a leap forward in digital payment solutions. Reinforcing its dedication to digital innovation, CaixaBank has put together a multidisciplinary task force of more than 100 people to exclusively analyze and deploy generative AI in selected areas, which will allow us to enhance our operational efficiency and customer service excellence.