Grupo BBVA, Spain's No. 2 financial institution, said Wednesday it planned to invest $2.5 billion in South America through the end of 2016 in a bid to become the "top digital bank in the region."

Roughly 40 percent of the total will be allocated for technology-related projects and the remaining 60 percent for projects that extend infrastructure and distribution networks, BBVA's president and chief operating officer, Angel Cano, said.

BBVA projects the investment outlay will enable it to double its Internet customers and increase by eight-fold the number of customers who bank via mobile devices.

The bank's branch network will be expanded by 18 percent and the number of ATMs will be increased by 30 percent, according to Cano, who said the strategic plan would encourage digital channels "because they will play a fundamental role in banking in the coming years."

Over the past three years, "our balance sheets in the region have grown at more than 20 percent per year," Cano said, adding that emerging economies will lead global growth in the coming years and South America "will continue to play an important role."

South America is "of fundamental importance" to BBVA, according to the executive, who said the plan strengthens the bank's commitment to a region where it has been investing for 20 years.

BBVA's investments in South America include $4 billion in acquisitions since its arrival in the region and $3.7 billion in investments from 2009 to 2016, Cano said.

BBVA is present in seven South American countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela) and has more than 14 million customers in the region, or nearly 30 percent of the group's total. EFE