The Customer Effect

Inside Bank of America’s big plans for small businesses

  • Bank of America will soon make its digital assistant Erica available to small business customers and launch Business Advantage 360
  • Small business banking at Bankof America generated $4 billion in revenues for the firm and $1.5 billion in net income in 2017
Inside Bank of America’s big plans for small businesses

It’s nice to be in small business these days.

In 2017 small business banking at Bankof America generated $4 billion in revenues for the firm and $1.5 billion in net income before interest and taxes, and that momentum continued into the first quarter. The bank also recently reported the highest levels of optimism among U.S. entrepreneurs since it began surveying them in 2012.

For Sharon Miller, who heads Bank of America’s small business banking, it’s about keeping the employees happy, and focusing on helping her customers who are small business owners be better employers to their own customers. In April the bank began partnering with Merrill Lynch on workplace benefit plans to help small business owners create retirement and health care plans “that could make the difference to an employee.

“With the hiring and the unemployment at all time lows you have these issues for small business owners: they’re not able to get the right talent,” she said.

Miller caught up with Tearsheet to discuss hiring, technology and what’s next. The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

When you last spoke with Tearsheet you said you were looking forward to a year of hiring. How’s that going?
We continue to invest in people and hiring small business bankers, who are small business consultants. We’re also helping employees of our company that want to get into small business or want to become a lending officer or advisor for investments get trained, get more education and have a career path with us. We’re not only hiring externally – if employees want to do something else or keep growing their career. So we see more and more of a move into a broad relationship manager role; they’re in a financial center helping clients with everything and now want to learn more about small business and can start learning and gradually get into a specialty. We’re investing a lot in training and education.

What about branch transformation on the small business side? How is B of A marrying its physical and digital strategies?
We continue to improve our efficiencies and operating leverage by investing in technologies and taking those and investing in people — client-facing people and professionals. We have business centers that are focused on business owners — you may have a separate transaction window for merchants to come in and make deposits or merchant demonstrations. We know in certain pockets of towns and cities you’ll have more business owners coming in and out than in others; in those centers with high traffic of business owners we add more capabilities so we’re there for them and have more people who understand small business.

What’s an example of technology you’re investing in?
Three weeks ago we launched our relationship rewards program, which is our version of the Preferred Rewards, where when you bring more to us — more deposits or lending — you get more benefits. It’s a very straightforward way to bank with us that encompasses lending, merchants and operating accounts. That’s a technology investment in itself because we have to on the back-end tie everything together and understand the full picture of the relationship; it comes from updating our products and solutions in the backend to streamlining the underwriting and fulfillment processes.

Most digital innovation happens in response to changing customer expectations. What changes have you noticed in your customers’ that’s informing your next moves?
We’re [running the] Post Some Love campaign, where you go online and give a positive review for your favorite business. People are rating — you’ve gotta watch all that. I look at that; if I’m going to go to Bank of America, what is that rated? It’s human nature. I think there are similar trends among small business owners.

What’s next for your business?
Erica, which is currently available for our consumers, will be available for our small businesses owners imminently. We’ve been testing it as employees for the last three months. We’re going through a staggered rollout. We have a clear advantage because we are a large institution that has money to invest in technology — we spend on cybersecurity and prevention to have a fortress built around customers’ information but take that a step further to tie things together and have clients understand whats happening with their payroll and real life feeding into it so they can anticipate outflows of spend. That’s what Business Advantage 360 will do, marry all of that together for our clients, when we launch this in the fourth quarter.

What’s a big challenge you’re tackling this year?
Part of our opportunity is getting more of our small business clients to bank with us on the consumer side [and vice versa]. Out of our 3 million small business clients, 1 million have a consumer relationship. Likewise we have 6 million consumer clients at B of A that have a small business relationship with another institution. Clients have a choice, they don’t have to come see us. It’s about letting them know what we can do, our capabilities, and getting out and saying “if we were able to do X would that resonate with you? Is that something that would give us another opportunity to earn your business?”

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