christopher columbusIn 1857, the U.K. and France waged the Second Opium War, the U.S. Supreme Court tried the Dred Scott case, and the world’s first global economic crisis began. Amid the panic, financial services group BBVA formed in Spain to drive growth in the region.

Now more than 150 years later, BBVA has pooled together a $100 million fund to invest in startups that are developing technology for the financial services industry.

BBVA Ventures is an initiative to help this international banking conglomerate tap into the innovation happening in Silicon Valley. The team is establishing ties with entrepreneurs, startups, incubator and accelerator programs, and investors, and it will make strategic investments in both startups and other funds.

“Investing in startup companies committed to new business models enables BBVA to learn and anticipate the emerging challenges facing the financial services sector,” said executive director Jay Reinemann in a statement. “What’s more, entrepreneurs and co-investors can leverage BBVA’s extensive experience, brand, and global distribution network in the financial sector to accelerate their growth. This is an exchange of knowledge that significantly enhances the capabilities of the bank and the potential financial returns for our co-investors, while at the same time providing the entrepreneurs who lead the innovation processes access to BBVA’s valuable strategic resources.”

The goal is to improve internal awareness of new technologies and the opportunities therein. BBVA Ventures made its first investment in early 2012 in 500 Startups, a well-known incubator program led by Dave McClure. 500 Startups has made a number of investments in financial startups, including Simple, inDinero, PeerTransfer, and WePay. Ribbit Capital, which just yesterday announced a new $100 million investment fund for financial services startups, also received BBVA Ventures money, as did SaveUp is a startup that partners with financial institutions to apply gaming techniques to encourage savings, debt reduction and financial education.

BBVA is short for Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA. The multinational Spanish banking group is the largest financial institution in Mexico and has franchises in South America and the “Sunbelt” region of the United States. Read the press release.