The Customer Effect

Inside Bank of America’s mobile-financing strategy for small businesses

  • No matter how easy or even pleasant technology makes everyday tasks, people will always want at least the option to call on human help, at least according to Bank of America view
  • B of A just enabled small business loans over the mobile banking app, but small business head Sharon Miller said the announcement is really about its overall vision to combine technology and customer service
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Inside Bank of America’s mobile-financing strategy for small businesses

No matter how easy or even pleasant technology makes everyday tasks, people will always want at least the option to call on human help. That’s the Bank of America perspective.

“They’re complementary, one doesn’t exclude the other,” said Sharon Miller, head of small business banking. “I go online and I’ll research and look at the information, but when it comes to getting the advice, looking for a loan, getting someone to tell me what I need to think about — I want to talk to someone… That’s what the basis of our company is built on. Our people make the difference.”

That’s coming from perhaps one of the most progressive of the major U.S. banks when it comes to digital strategy. It’s been one of the most aggressive in reducing its branch presence, it was among the first to upgrade its ATM fleet with new technology to giving customers greater choice of transaction type (like check cashing, making credit card payments, choosing their preferred denominations when withdrawing cash) and last year it was the first to deploy cardless ATM capability. On mobile it was ahead of the digital game with Touch ID, debit card toggling and fraud alerts to the app.

In another move on Wednesday, it upgraded the app to allow small business customers to apply for a loan or credit line directly from the app, making it a front runner in a market where most banks have yet to perfect their most basic mobile banking strategies for consumers, let alone those for corporate or small business customers, or even make in-branch or online banking functions just as easy to execute on mobile. As part of the app upgrade it’s also giving small business customers a loan product tool that helps them find the right loan for their needs, monthly loan payment calculator and the ability to connect with the bank’s small business specialists through online chat, phone or by scheduling an in-person appointment with a small business banker through their phone.

It’s really just another step toward the bank’s overall vision of making every banking experience the same across channels, according to Miller, by combining technology and customer service.

With 23 million active mobile users, B of A reported a 38 percent increase in sales over mobile over the last year. More than 1.3 million of them are small business clients and the bank says the number of small business customers using the mobile banking app has increased 14 percent in the last year.

“Our technology is there to help us keep up with everything happening in the world and the things consumers are demanding, but no matter how you slice it, there’s a reason we have 4,600 financial centers across the country and 2,000 people dedicated to small business across the country,” Miller said. “Thats the differentiator of us versus fintech or a community bank: we have size and scale to make it relevant, but we also operate in 87 different local markets with people that make local decisions and operate in those local counties.”

Listening to what takes place in those conversations, as well as feedback from online channels and customer surveys, has been “the key” to B of A’s digital success, Miller said when asked about how the bank came to identify the new feature as a need among its small business customers.

“We aren’t based on one product or one service, we start with the client and the difference between us and a fintech is our ability to have that local conversation,” she said. “We want to have the conversation that cant be replaced by just a product.”

She mentioned the forthcoming launch of its digital assistant erica later this year, which will provide a voice simulation to help clients with their banking. Still, not even erica can replace the value of a human banker for B of A. Banking is, after all, about people — and people are all different in their needs, preferences and capabilities.

Sometimes consumers need things individually that a small business owner doesn’t, and vice versa, Miller said, but all small business owners are also consumers, and she wants to make their banking experience seamless no matter what hat they’re wearing.

“Small business clients have different priorities. They could be starting a business, growing it, transitioning… All of those stages require different skill sets. They’re partnering with us to have that thoughtful discussion and get the right solution. Nothing just fits perfectly. Everyones different.”

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