Bank of America keeps it simple addressing customer needs

Strip away all the fintech and marketing jargon, and banking is still a pretty simple business. If you ask Bank of America’s Thong Nguyen, he’d probably agree with that.

The president of retail banking and co-head of the bank’s consumer division believes that customers have three basic needs. First, they require things to be simple. There’s no need to overly complicate things. Next, they want their bank to be there when they need it. That means in good times and bad. Lastly, customers want to understand what’s in the banking relationship for them. They want their financial institution to clearly and continuously define its value.

In spite of all the new technology and aggressive marketing surrounding banking, Nguyen thinks customer needs have remained pretty consistent, even if the expression of them has evolved. “These needs haven’t changed all that much, but what they mean has changed,” said Nguyen during a keynote address at the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas last week.

Those changing needs have prompted Bank of America to launch some new products and services. The bank recently introduced Erica, a chatbot that, sitting inside the firm’s core banking app, employs AI to help answer customer questions and proactively help them make better decisions. The firm’s Merrill Lynch division also announced it will be launching a roboadvisor.

Making payments digital

Encouraging customers to embrace digital payments is a focal point for Nguyen. Bank of America’s retail banking head said that for his firm, cash and checks make up only about 10 percent of transactions, yet they account for 40 percent of spend and 50 percent of costs.

There’s an opportunity there and that’s the rationale behind the bank’s recently-inked partnership with digital P2P payments provider, Zelle. “We need an interface to be simple and easy to use, it has to be safe, and it has to reward people for their relationship with the bank,” Nguyen said. He expects full rollout of the Zelle experience to happen in December.

Challenges ahead

As customer behavior changes, Nguyen does see some challenges ahead for financial institutions. First, the shift from ownership to the sharing economy will require financial institutions to change their models as well. “A bank would have to move from helping finance specific purchases to connecting people to the whole sharing ecosystem,” he said. Secondly, identity management is a growing concern. It’s becoming increasingly important to effectively manage the dozens of passwords we maintain. Customers trust banks to keep their money safe, so Nguyen believes there are opportunities for banks to offer identity management products as well.