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Capital Acumen 34

Enhancing the Bank's Digital Platform

A conversation with Dean Athanasia, co-head of Consumer, Bank of America, on the bank's deepening commitment to clients in the digital era.

Smart phone surrounded by icons representative of banking functions

composite, Getty Images

BANK OF AMERICA has been undergoing a transformation over the past few years due to efficiencies created by advances in digital technology and a growing focus on fulfilling clients’ financial needs. To gain more insight into these enhancements, the editors of Capital Acumen recently talked with Dean Athanasia, co-head of Consumer, Bank of America. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Capital Acumen: Thank you for speaking with us today, Dean. Please give us a broad view of the bank’s platform evolution.

Dean Athanasia: Certainly. We’ve been making investments across the entire Bank of America platform, including the digital arena, based largely on feedback we’ve received from our consumer banking clients and our high-net-worth clients. They’ve told us that they like to bank online and on their mobile devices at their convenience, and visit our financial centers for more complex tasks and to meet with a client professional. In short, we’ve been investing to make it easier for our clients to connect with us in ways that work best for them.

Tell us about the bank’s Digital Mortgage Experience.

One client request was for a more simple way to apply for  a mortgage. In response, we recently launched the Digital Mortgage Experience, or DME, which can be found in our industry-leading smartphone app.1 With ease of use in mind, we designed it to feel as if you’re having a conversation with the app. You do almost everything on screen, so there’s rarely anything that needs to be downloaded or printed. If you bank at Bank of America, we already have your address, account details, etc., and can auto-populate the application fields with your information; this has reduced the number of fields you have to fill out from about 300 to just 10 or so. Once you’ve verified all the information and manually added items such as assets held elsewhere, you can simply e-sign on your mobile device. It’s convenient, and the entire ecosystem uses industry-leading digital security.

Are there any human beings in the process?

Yes, at almost every stage. Our lending officers review each application to ensure that all necessary information is included. Clients with questions or concerns can contact a lending officer through the app. And, a client professional can see where a client is at almost any stage of the process and may contact the client if there’s a problem, such as a missing document.

What’s the turnaround time for approval and closing on the digital mortgage?

Many people will receive a conditional approval within 24 hours. Full approval will take longer as it may require, for example, a property appraisal. As for the closing period, we’ve reduced it by about half.

Let’s talk about Erica, Bank of America’s new virtual financial assistant.

Erica is available on our mobile app* and can quickly respond to verbal requests for balance inquiries, fund transfers and so forth. But that’s just the start. Using artificial intelligence, or AI, Erica has the ability to learn a client’s spending patterns and make suggestions. Let’s say you use a Bank of America account to pay for multiple gym memberships — Erica may ask if you really need them all. We think millennials, who tend to be “digital natives,” will feel very comfortable using Erica; and other users will discover how convenient Erica can be. Rather than calling us or going online, they may find themselves banking, using only their voice, while they’re making dinner. And if talking to Erica isn’t convenient, they can type a request instead. By the way, with Bank of America’s commitment to sustainability, we’re proud that our digital enhancements have helped significantly reduce the company’s paper use.

Whether the prefer using an app or visiting a financial center our goal is to handle virtually all of our clients’ financial needs.” 

Dean Athanasia co-head of Consumer, Bank of America

With digital now so prominent, what changes do you foresee for the company’s financial centers?                    

We’re making modifications to our brick-and-mortar facilities, with the goal of turning them into “client destinations.” While the traditional tellers are still there, most of our client professionals, who may formerly have been relegated to upstairs offices — our mortgage lenders, small business bankers and Merrill Edge financial solutions advisors — are now more accessible, reflecting their growing importance to clients. Perhaps most important, our centers are great places to create and maintain relationships with our clients.

Thank you, Dean. Could you share a few closing words on the future of banking with us?

Whether they prefer using an app or visiting a financial center, our goal is to handle virtually all of our clients’ financial needs. We have the products and services most clients want, and with our new high-tech, high-touch digital platform, those offerings are integrated almost seamlessly. We are one of only a few providers with this kind of integration, and we believe that our clients — including the many U.S. Trust clients who have a consumer banking relationship with Bank of America — will find it very appealing.

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