The digital customer experience of retail banks in Spain – Part 1 : Digital Usage Status


Study and ranking of 24 brands operating in the retail banking market in Spain, based on 150+ indicators measuring the level of use and performance of their digital channels (web, mobile applications and social networks), as part of their relationship with customers and prospects.

About the study

This Digital Usage Status study is the first layer to an extensive digital analysis made by D-Rating on the Retail Banking sector in Spain. It aims to measure the relative performance of banking players in the Spanish market in terms of usage of digital channels to interact with their prospects and customers.

For a retail bank, a comparatively high use of digital channels in its relationship with prospects and customers is a key indicator of its digital performance. In particular, it reflects a greater capacity to attract new generations of consumers, provide high-performance digital solutions and optimize operating costs.


Methodology and scope of analysis

The « Usage Status » module is one of the three pillars of D-Rating rating methodology. It usesdata from outside the company to measure its impact on the main digital territories: Web, mobileapplications, social networks.


The performance index is calculated on the basis of more than 150+ quantified indicators, reflecting the relative strength of the brand (relative to its number of customers) in these territories, the level of commitment of its audience and the public assessments of its customers.

Coverage list of Retail Banking brands studied

A total of 24 brands – offering a meaningful vision of the competitive environment in the Spanishretail banking sector in 2019 – were studied. This panel brings together several categories of actors: traditional banks, first generation online banks, neo-banks and payment services providers.

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NB : Payment services providers, although scored, are not ranked because they do not meet thesame regulatory requirements.


Since 2008, the financial crisis has had a major impact on the retail banking sector in Spain.Because of the pressure caused by lower margins and additional compliance to ECBrequirements, retail banks operating in the Spanish market had to drastically reduce costs.

Thus, in 10 years:

  • The number of employees of financial institutions decreased by 30%, from 270,000 in 2008 to 187,000 at the beginning of 2019 (1).

  • The number of agencies fell from 46,221 in 2008 to 28,181 in mid-2017, a reduction of 39% of physical locations (2).

  • The search for economies of scale has generated a significant consolidation movement with more than 51 bank mergers.

According to the World Bank, Spain’s GDP growth rate has exceeded 3% per year since 2015 (3) and GDP per capita has exceeded $34,000 (4). However, the income of the Spanish banking sector continues to fall, from €46.7 million in 2017 to €35.7 million in 2018 (a drop of -28.2% in turnover for the average bank) (5).

Despite these difficult conditions, neo-banks are still trying to push back the barriers in order to conquer this European market. As a result, there are no less than 13 new competitors, 100% digital, who have emerged in the last 2 years, such as N26 and Revolut, which counts together nearly 400,000 customers in Spain. The international neo-bank N26 has announced the hiring of around 100 people in Barcelona at the beginning of 2019 to complete the team of its second office. Other local initiatives are also emerging in this growing market, such as BNC10 – just launched for customers who have registered on the waiting list, BNext – which promises major cashbacks with popular partners Uber or Netflix, or Nomo Bank – which offers services oriented towards freelancers and small professionals. Even Orange Bank is willing to become a Spanish success story as it announces a market entry in 2019.

Finally, it is worth noting that digital represents an important challenge for traditional banks in Spain to provide access to banking services. Indeed, Spain suffers from a wide disparity of bank branches among the local population: more than 4100 municipalities, or 50% of cities, do not have physical branches (6).

What are the characteristics of digital channels usage in the retail banking market in Spain? Have the transformation efforts undertaken by the major Spanish groups had a visible effect on their digital performance? Why are new banks being created in this difficult context and do they make a major difference in terms of digital performance? Which banks are most at risk with the evolution of digital habits?

Our 2019 study of the digital usage of retail banks in Spain provides preliminary answers tothese questions by focusing on the use of digital channels (websites, mobile applications andsocial networks) in relationships with customers and prospects.

Three key findings emerged from this study:

Key finding n°1 : The retail banking market in Spain is mainly made upof « mobile app first » banks

Key finding n°2 : 3 traditional banks are positioning themselves, with new banks and first-generation online banks, in the leading group that dominates the market in terms of the level of use of digital channels

Key finding n°3 : Five banks are significantly behind in the use of digitalchannels

Key finding n°1 : The retail banking market in Spain is mainly made up of "mobile app first" banks

The matrix below positions the 22 banks and 1 of the 2 payment service providers studied according to the share of their digital traffic on mobile applications and the ratio of monthly unique users per customer on the web and the app channels. (proxy of usage intensity per customer).


The first observation is that of the 23 brands represented, 18 (or about 78%) are in the app-first quadrants. For example, we estimate that there are 27 million monthly users of mobile retail banking applications in Spain for a total population of 46 million (7).

In the quadrant « app-first, high usage », it is interesting to note the absence of traditional banks and cooperatives. In this group we find only neobanks, first generation online banks and a payment services provider that clearly promote access to banking services via the mobile application. They have succeeded in developing a high level of usage by their customers.

In the « web-first, high usage » frame, two banks are located in the app-first/web-first border area:Bankinter and N26 Spain. These two players are distinguished by a high intensity of use of digitalchannels by customers, supported by an inclusive multi-channel approach which is able to satisfy the expectations of different customer profiles. It should be noted that Bankinter is characterized by a strong online brokerage activity, generally more intensive in digital interactions than day-to-day banking.

In the « app-first, low-use » quadrant, we find the majority of traditional banks, but also an online bank: Openbank, and a neobank: Imagin Bank, the latter being the most radically app-first on themarket. This group includes banks that also promote the use of the mobile application but generate a lower intensity of use per customer. In the case of traditional banks, this is certainly due to the fact that physical branches are still used extensively. In the case of Imagin Bank and Openbank, this lower intensity of use of digital channels by customers raises questions.

Finally, in the « web-first, low usage » section, we find 3 traditional and cooperative banks. In thecase of Cajamar and Ibercaja, the low use of the mobile application channel is out of step withlocal market trends.

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This ‘app-first’ trend in the Spanish retail banking market is a differentiating factor compared tothe French market, which remains at 60% web-first.

However, when analyzing the most important retail banks in Spain, France and Belgium, itappears that this ‘app-first’ dominance is – except for BBVA – more related to a relatively lowlevel of web usage than to very high mobile application usage.


Key finding n°2: 3 traditional banks are positioning themselves, with new banks and first-generation online banks, in the leading group that dominates the market in terms of the level of use of digital channels

The overall ranking and score of the different banks studied are presented below.


International neo-banks are at the top of this ranking. N26 achieves the highest score thanks to its significant presence on all the evaluated channels (Web, mobile application and social networks). Revolut, in 2nd place in the ranking, is distinguished by a stronger presence on mobile applications because to its more exclusive « Mobile App First » approach.

Bankinter ranks 3rd in this ranking with high digital usage. With the acquisition of EVO Banco, 4th in the ranking, Bankinter will also be able to offer its customers the benefits of EVO Banco’s innovations, such as integrated voice assistance for intelligent account management.

ING España, BBVA and Caixa bank are ranked 5th, 6th and 7th respectively. BBVA and Caixa bankhave succeeded in developing a rich digital relationship in the context of a very large customer base. The analyses revealed the very high frequency of use of the BBVA application. Their number of sessions per user of mobile applications is twice as high as the average of other network banks.

Curiously, Imagin Bank, the neobank of the CaixaBank group, obtains a rather low score, below the market average and well below that obtained by the group’s network banking entity. This is due in particular to the Image Bank’s strategy of not having a customer web portal and pushing its customers exclusively to mobile applications. Moreover, it have a relatively low rate of use of this mobile application by its customers compared to other banks. It should also be noted that Imagin Bank customers can use the CaixaBank web portal to access their accounts, so this web traffic cannot be associated with the Imagin Bank brand.

Key finding n°3 : Five banks are significantly behind in the use of digital channels

At the end of the ranking, we find 5 banks: Liberbank, Caja Rural Ruralvia, Cajamar, DeutscheBank and Unicaja Banco that score very low (less than 25 / 100) for reasons that may bedifferent.

1. Satisfaction is undermined by mobile applications

This is the case for Deutsche Bank España and Liberbank, which have the lowest satisfaction scores on mobile application stores over the last 12 months (average satisfaction scores combined with comments between February 2018 and January 2019). Their average scores of 1.6 and 1.7 respectively indicate a significant gap between the performance of their mobile applications and their customers’ expectations.


2. A low level of customer connection to digital channels

According to our estimates, less than 20% of Cajamar’s customers connect to their account at least once a month (via the web portal or mobile application) while for example Bankinter is in contact each month with almost all of its customers via digital channels.

The overall use of mobile applications is low for Deutsche Bank España, Liberbank and CajaRural Rural Ruralvia. The estimate of consolidated traffic on the web and mobile applications isthe lowest for Caja Rural Ruralvia and Cajamar.

In a context where banks, with much larger customers base, have developed levels of use ofdigital channels, the 5 worst performing banks in this field are threatened by several competitivedisadvantages:

  • a lower ability to benefit from the cost optimization potential of a more digitalized customer relationship

  • a lower ability to increase the frequency of contacts with – in total – their 14 250 000 customers – and thus to increase their loyalty and cross-selling opportunities.

In the end, we believe that the profitability of these 5 banks could be impacted with a doublenegative effect on costs and on net banking income.


The first impressive results of N26 and Revolut show that the Spanish retail banking market isattractive to new banks. However, N26 and Revolut have yet to demonstrate the possibility ofattracting larger customer segments, beyond tech-savvy or frequent travelers.

But their impact on the market will probably not be limited to their customer base. Their digital experience and the fact that most services are free of charge will probably also have an impact on the Spanish market in general, generating more pressure on banks that have not yet developed a rich digital relationship with their customers.

Does this digital richness come from the banks’ ability to offer many functionalities? – to allow their customers and prospects to subscribe online to all their offers? – to have numerous and efficient digital contact channels? However, do the banks that perform the worst on this first ranking show ambition in terms of services that can enrich their digital customer relationship in the medium term? Our second digital performance analysis module – relating to the comparativestudy of digital proposals – will answer these questions. It will assess the level of digitisation of banking offers and services, the performance of communication channels and self-service tools and the performance of the bank’s day-to-day customer experience. This study will be available in September 2019.


  1. Banco de España-


  3. Base PIB constant 2005 – Banque Mondiale -

  4. Base dollar constant 2011 – Banque Mondiale



  7. Estimation D-Rating basée sur des données Appannie.

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