MADRID, March 15 (Reuters) - Spanish bank BBVA is focusing on technology such as online banking as it tries to keep business growing in its strongest foreign markets this year, especially Mexico, executives told shareholders on Friday.
Income from BBVA's businesses in Latin America and other emerging markets like Turkey last year helped soften the blow of recession at home in Spain, where bad debts rose and it took big writedowns on soured property deals.
Mexico provided just over 40 percent of the group's adjusted profits in 2012 - more than Spain. BBVA said it wanted to grow further there and in the rest of Latin America by investing in technology that could help it reach more customers, such as Internet and mobile phone banking.
"We are putting expansion plans in place to take advantage of opportunities in (the Mexican) market, plans which are very much centred on technology and infrastructure," BBVA Chief Executive Angel Cano told shareholders at the bank's annual meeting in Bilbao, northern Spain.
Spain's second-biggest bank did not say how much it planned to spend on these investments this year.
Like bigger peer Santander, BBVA is among Spain's healthier lenders that have managed to survive a five-year-old property crash without asking for state help, thanks in great part to income from overseas.
Aside from Latin America, BBVA is also looking to boost its business in Turkey, where it has a stake of nearly 25 percent in Garanti Bank and the option to increase it, and in the United States. Executives stressed that new technologies would also help them turn the U.S. market into one of BBVA's biggest.
BBVA made a loss in Spain last year and writedowns on real estate in the country pushed the whole group's profits down 44 percent to 1.67 billion euros ($2.17 billion).
But Chairman Francisco Gonzalez reiterated that BBVA wanted to almost double its market share to 20 percent in Spain in the coming years as other banks shrink.
Gonzalez added that BBVA would continue to return emergency loans from the European Central Bank in the coming months, as funding strains ease.
It has already returned roughly half of the 30 billion euros in had in so-called longer-term refinancing operations.