Probability of default (PD)

PD is a measure of credit rating that is assigned internally to a customer or a contract with the aim of estimating the probability of default within a year. The PD is obtained through a process in using scoring and rating tools.


This tool is a statistical instrument focused on estimating the probability of default according to features of the contract-customer binomial. It is used to approach the management of retail credit: consumer, mortgages, credit cards of individuals, loans for businesses, etc. There are different types of scoring: reactive, behavioral, proactive scorings and bureau scoring.

The main aim of reactive scoring is to forecast the credit quality of loan applications submitted by customers. It attempts to predict the applicant’s probability of default if the transaction were granted (they may not be BBVA customers at the time of application).

The level of sophistication of the scoring model and its capacity to adapt to the economic context enables it to incorporate more accurate customer profiles to the risk measuring tools and improve the their capacity to identify different levels of creditworthiness within specific groups (young people, customers, etc.). The result is a significant improvement in the screening capacity of tools in groups of particular importance to the business.

The accompanying charts show default rates of some of the reactive scoring tools used by the Group.

They show, for example, that both the loan seasoning and the score can serve to assess the risk of a retail-type operation. Chart 5 shows the default rates, at one year, of BBVA Spain mortgages. Charts 6 and 7 show, for BBVA Spain credit cards, the different levels of default of groups with different degrees of client loyalty, by contract length (from the highest for the non-customer segment, to the lowest for the preferred customers) and activity. An inactive card is defined as one which is not being used, and its probability of default is expected to be lower than that of an active card. This can be seen by comparing both charts.

A feature of reactive scorings is that the default rates of the various segments tend to converge over time. In BBVA, this loss of screening capacity is mitigated by combining reactive with behavioral and proactive scorings.

Behavioral scorings are used to review contracts that have already been granted by incorporating information on customer behavior and on the contract itself. Unlike reactive scoring, it is an a posteriori analysis, i.e. once the contract has been awarded. It is used to review credit card limits, monitor risk, etc. and takes into account variables directly linked to the operation and the customer that are available internally: the behavior of a particular product in the past (delays in payments, default, etc.) and the customer’s general behavior with the Entity (average balance on accounts, direct debit bills, etc.).

Proactive scoring tools take into account the same variables as behavioral scorings, but they have a different purpose, as they provide an overall ranking of the customer, rather than of a specific operation. This view of the customer is supplemented by calibrations adapted to each product type. The proactive scorings the Group has available enable it to monitor customers’ credit risk more precisely, to improve risk screening processes and to manage the portfolio more actively, such as offering credit facilities adapted to each customer’s risk profile.

As an example, the chart shows the default probability curve for the proactive scoring for BBVA Spain credit cards in accordance with the credit rating and for active cards (Chart 8).

The so-called bureau scoring models, widely used in the Americas, are also of great importance. This kind of tool is similar to the scorings explained above, except that while the latter are based on internal information from the Bank itself, bureau scoring requires credit information from other credit institutions or banks (on defaults or customer behavior). In those countries with positive bureau information, external and internal information is combined. This information is provided by credit agencies that compile data from other entities. Not all banks collaborate in supplying this information, and usually only participating entities have access to it. In Spain, the Bank of Spain’s Risk Information Center (CIRBE) makes such information available. The bureau scorings are used for the same purpose as the other scorings, i.e. authorizing operations, setting limits and monitoring risk.

A correct management of the reactive, behavioral, proactive and bureau tools by the Group allows to gather updated risk parameters adapted to economic reality. This results in precise knowledge of the credit health of operations and/or the customers. This task is particularly relevant in the current economic situation, as it allows identification of the contracts and customers that are in difficulties, and thus the necessary measures can be taken to manage risks that have already been assumed.


These tools are focused on wholesale customers: companies, corporations, SMEs, the public sector, etc., where the defaults are predicted at the customer rather than contract level.

The risk assumed by BBVA in the wholesale portfolios is classified in a standardized way by using a single master scale for the whole Group that is available in two versions: a reduced one with 17 degrees; and an extended one, with 34. The master scale aims to discriminate the credit quality levels, taking into account geographical diversity and the different risk levels in the different wholesale portfolios in the countries where the Group operates.

The information provided by the rating tools is used when deciding on accepting operations and reviewing limits.

Some of the wholesale portfolios managed by BBVA are low default portfolios, in which the number of defaults is low (sovereign risks, corporates, etc.). To obtain the PD estimates in these portfolios the internal information is supplemented by external information, mainly from external rating agencies and the databases of external suppliers.

As an example, below is the parametric curve for defaults of BBVA Chile’s company rating tool, by internal score assigned (Chart 9).

The economic cycle in PD

The current economic crisis has revealed the importance of anticipation in risk management. In this context, excess of cyclicality risk measurements has been identified as one of the causes of the instability of the metrics of financial institutions. BBVA has always been committed to estimating average cycle parameters, parameters that mitigate the effects of economic-financial turbulence in credit risk measurement.

The probability of default varies according to the cycle: it is greater during recessions and lower at boom periods. The adjustment process to transfer the default rates observed empirically to average default rates for the cycle is known as cycle adjustment. The cycle adjustment uses sufficiently long economic series related to the default of portfolios, and their behavior is compared with that of the defaults in the Entity’s portfolios. Any differences between the past and future economic cycles may also be taken into account, thus giving the focus a prospective component.

Chart 10 illustrates how the cycle adjustment mechanism works. It shows the hypothetical evolution of a series of defaults over more than one economic cycle. The cycle adjustment model used by BBVA extrapolates the behavior of this series of defaults to the internal data, based on the relationship between the seriesover one cycle and the observation period.

5: Mortgage scoring tool calibration, BBVA Spain

(Default rates by seasoning for different score groups)

6: Active credit card scoring calibration, BBVA Spain

(Default rates by seasoning for different segmentation of the tools)

7: Inactive credit card scoring tool calibration, BBVA Spain

(Default rates by seasoning for different segmentation of the tools)

8: Proactive scoring tool calibration for active personal credit cards, BBVA Spain

(By score group, Customers with a positive experience and preferred status)

9: Rating tool calibration for corporates, BBVA Chile

(Default rates by score group)

10: Cycle adjustment mechanism