BofA’s one app to rule them all is coming this year: Marketing head Tyrie

Search Apple’s App Store for Bank of America, and several apps pop up for iPhone users: mobile banking, private banking, prepaid mobile and others aimed at clients of the bank’s Merrill Lynch wealth management unit. By December, all those functions will be rolled into the bank’s main app, said David Tyrie, BofA’s chief digital officer and head of global marketing, in an interview this week.

“By the end of this year, you’ll see a massive step change,” Tyrie said.

He ticked off the different tasks users will be able to accomplish with the app: “Now it’s also information about investments that you may have with us, including Merrill Lynch and the Private Bank, any lending, like a home equity line of credit, mortgage, personal or small-business loan — that’s all integrated together.”

Bank of America’s David Tyrie.

The strategy dates back to a storied marketing-research session, a tale Tyrie has told many times (but is happy to tell a reporter once more). At a focus group in Houston, a moderator led 14 people through dissecting an important question: What can a bank do for a customer to maintain a lifelong relationship? Finally, one participant asked the other members of the group if they knew what percentage of time a rocket is on target to hit the moon. It’s just 3%, he told them, and the rest of the time, NASA’s mission control is actively managing the rocket’s trajectory.

“And these darn financial services firms, all they care about is putting me in a rocket and hitting a green button,” Tyrie recalled the man saying. “If you want my relationship, be my mission control.”

The goal of the app, and of the Charlotte, North Carolina, bank’s digital plans more generally, is to be a one-stop shop for all customers’ financial needs, to make mission control easier.

“More and more of this client activity is powered by our digital transformation, which is foundational to everything we do,” BofA CEO Brian Moynihan said on the bank’s fourth-quarter earnings call in January.
Many of the largest banks are similarly rolling all their product lines into one consumer app, said Emmett Higdon, a director of digital banking at Javelin Strategy & Research. The challenge: It’s difficult to make the customer experience smooth.

“Consumers struggle with finding options, settings and features in today’s complex mobile banking apps, often resorting to a phone call to help them sort things out,” he said. “That’s the last thing banks want.”

The point is to use retail banking as a lure to entice consumers into investing, which is a sticky, fee-generating business.

“Every major bank is working to better integrate the investing side of the house with the retail digital channels,” Higdon said. “This has less to do with customer convenience than it does with creating a bridge from the retail app to investing as a means of capturing the next generation of investors.”

Because BofA has wide reach, the bank can also match or bat down new competitors’ challenges.

Take Zelle, the peer-to-peer payments system that a consortium of banks offers. In the fourth quarter, BofA customers transferred $65 billion through Zelle, with the number of transactions now overtaking the number of checks that customers write, Moynihan said on the quarterly earnings call in January.

When “one group of younger millennials” told BofA it needed to offer a Zelle widget for mobile phone payments to match what competing payments apps already had, the bank made one available within the month, Tyrie said.

“It’s pretty easy to make sure we’re staying competitive,” Tyrie said.

The new app also ties in with Erica (short for “America”), the bank’s digital voice assistant. Last year, Erica received 400 million queries, Moynihan said during the 2021 fourth-quarter earnings call in January.

“Erica is doing the best job of any retail banking virtual assistant in the U.S. right now,” Higdon said. “The bank has invested heavily in the data-integration work necessary to enable Erica to deliver value on multiple fronts, and is starting to be more assertive in having Erica insert herself more in customers’ digital interactions.”

Tyrie noted that fewer than 2% of people who ask Erica a question follow up by calling the bank’s help line: “It’s proof: Do I really want to dial a phone number, wait, ask a question, when I can go digital and ask Erica?”

The bank is also tying in its LifePlan goals-based planning software, which it launched in October 2020 and which now has 9 million users, Tyrie says, up from 5 million last October.

The next step is personalization, Tyrie said: “Instead of having one digital app, we have 66 million digital apps,” including a customized dashboard. The push toward making a giant bank feel small and intimate starts with data, such as identifying the 114,000 BofA customers who got married last year, and figuring out what the bank can do for them.“After someone gets married, they are 4 to 8 times more likely to want to open an investment account,” Tyrie noted.

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