The Customer Effect

How BB&T plans to spend that $50 million fintech investment

  • BB&T is looking at front- and back-end uses for artificial intelligence and digital payments as part of its fintech investment plans
  • The bank is rolling out “voice of the client,” which tracks customers and provides the bank feedback so it can respond to customer challenges
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How BB&T plans to spend that $50 million fintech investment

BB&T has $50 million to invest in its digital overhaul and it plans to go shopping.

On Wednesday, the $222 billion-asset bank holding company based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said it would allocate that much to acquire emerging technology companies as part of its plan to enhance the customer experience, become a more efficient operation and generally remain “relevant and meaningful,” said chief digital officer Bennett Bradley.

“We do not view digital as something that’s separate and apart,” he said. “The goal is to instill digital as an integral component of how we do business across the company and bring more visibility, awareness and coordination to our activity.”

Bradley, who has worked at the bank for 32 years, became its chief digital officer in 2015.

BB&T is interested in “intelligent automation” for the company, which includes artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics processing automation, as well as chatbots, virtual assistance and conversational commerce features like Alexa skills for Amazon Echo, according to Bradley. It’s also studying digital payments closely.

Throughout the various developments BB&T will continue to increase its investment in marketing and its “digital presentation to the marketplace,” CEO Kelly King said on the bank’s fourth quarter earnings call Thursday.

“Branch is still extremely important to us,” Bradley said. “Client usage of the branch distribution pattern is changing and we want to make sure we’re where our customers are. We have to recognize and respond to some of the changes occurring in the branch.”

BB&T has acquired hundreds of branches over the decades with its historically active mergers and acquisitions strategy. But that energy seems to have died down in the last two years.  It closed 150 branches in 2017 and plans to close another 150 or so this year, King reported Thursday.

For many of the larger banks in more urban areas, branch closures are a big part of their story. In many cases they’re trying to lower and enhance their physical footprint as their customers migrate to digital channels but in more rural areas, banks depend a little bit more on the business that comes through the branches.

BB&T has a lot of branches in rural areas and is working through how to rationalize those spaces now. King said the bank is doing a “substantial restructure” in the dev ops, AI, robotics and other IT-related departments that will make its spaces “substantially more effective and frankly less expensive.”

It’s currently rolling out “voice of the client,” which tracks customers as they walk through BB&T spaces, like a branch or customer care center. The bank gets consistent feedback so employees we can respond to any customer challenges.

Banks have been more investing heavily in fintech over the last few months. Last week, CIBC acquired Wellington Financial. Earlier this month TD Bank acquired Layer 6, an artificial intelligence company, whose niche is in personalization and prediction. JPMorgan Chase recently acquired the electronic payments company WePay. Only 9 percent of banks, probably the giants already running pilots and seeing positive results, said they plan to invest more than 50 percent in AI in the next year. Five percent said they plan to invest less than 25 percent.

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