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Bank of America Tech Executives See Promise in 5G, 3-D Printing

05/04/2021 | 12:53pm EDT

By Sara Castellanos

Bank of America Corp.'s technology executives are interested in championing new initiatives over the next few years using data analytics, fifth-generation wireless networks and possibly 3-D printing, as demand for the bank's digital services has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

The bank has spent about $3 billion on new technology initiatives every year for the last 10 years, with the budget increasing to $3.5 billion this year, according to the company. Many of those new technology initiatives resulted in the creation of digital services that were in high demand during the pandemic.

During lockdowns and social-distancing restrictions, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company said it saw an uptick in customers using its AI-based virtual assistant, Erica, online money-transfer service Zelle and mobile check deposit, among other digital services.

The bank's technology and business executives spoke about the company's digital growth at a virtual event on Monday, and said they're exploring more ways to innovate and keep pace with the demand for its technology.

"Digital demand is here to stay. That's not going away...now the question is how can we serve (customers) in more ways," said Aditya Bhasin, chief information officer for consumer, small business and wealth management at the bank.

Usage of digital services increased across the industry during the pandemic in part because branch locations were closed to curb the virus's spread, said Jason Malo, director analyst at technology research firm Gartner Inc.

The trend is expected to continue, but that doesn't mean people will stop going to bank branches once the pandemic is over, according to Mr. Malo. About 85% of consumers are expected to use a combination of physical and digital banking services in the coming years, he said. That means banks will need to continue developing tools and services across both physical and digital, he said.

Erica, the bank's virtual assistant, has more than 20 million users to date, up from about 10 million at the end of 2019, according to the company. The AI-based tool can help customers monitor recurring charges, receive bill reminders, view account balances and get a weekly snapshot of their spending, among other things.

Usage of Zelle also grew during the bank's first quarter, with 90% of commercial and corporate disbursements now being made through the service. Digital activity among adults in their mid-50s and above had the highest increase during the pandemic, the bank's executives said.

For Cathy Bessant, Bank of America's chief operations and technology officer, one of the most exciting technologies is 3-D printing, a process in which digital objects can be printed in three dimensions. The technology could be used as part of a distributed manufacturing method connected by technology, where the bank wouldn't have to rely solely on one location to manufacture products, she said. For example, 3-D printing could be used to print credit cards for consumers in the event that one of Bank of America's manufacturing plants needs to be shut down because of a natural disaster, she said. "That technology is much more important than the average person thinks it is," Ms. Bessant said.

The bank has yet to find a solid use case for blockchain, the record-keeping system behind cryptocurrencies, Ms. Bessant said.

Ms. Bessant and David Reilly, CIO of global banking and markets at the bank, also spoke at the event about the potential of 5G and its ability to offer connectivity in remote areas.

The technology promises to increase download speeds for video on mobile phones and make machines such as drones and virtual-reality headsets work faster and more efficiently.

"That opens up new application capabilities, video, different ways to engage with clients than we have traditionally," Mr. Reilly said.

Bank of America is also focusing on using data analytics and artificial-intelligence techniques to continue to derive insights from massive amounts of data while protecting individuals' privacy, he said. "Data continues to be probably the largest untapped resource in companies like ours," Mr. Reilly said.

Data analytics efforts could help the bank get better at tailoring financial advice for each of its 66 million consumer and small-business clients, beyond what its virtual assistant, Erica, is providing. "Doing it in a way that feels intimate and personal for our clients, that's what the future is for us," said Nikki Katz, the bank's head of digital design and delivery.

Write to Sara Castellanos at sara.castellanos@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

05-04-21 1453ET

Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
BANK OF AMERICA CORPORATION 1.24% 42.36 Delayed Quote.39.76%
DJ INDUSTRIAL 1.06% 34382.13 Delayed Quote.11.16%
GARTNER, INC. 0.65% 231.1 Delayed Quote.43.33%
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Net income 2021 25 928 M - -
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P/E ratio 2021 14,0x
Yield 2021 1,78%
Capitalization 363 B 363 B -
Capi. / Sales 2021 4,13x
Capi. / Sales 2022 4,00x
Nbr of Employees 212 000
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Brian T. Moynihan Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer
Paul M. Donofrio Chief Financial Officer
Catherine P. Bessant Co-COO & Chief Technology Officer
Thomas Kell Montag Co-Chief Operating Officer
Andrea B. Smith Chief Administrative Officer
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