‘Aha’ moments are David Tyrie’s job at BofA

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David Tyrie has always been what he calls “a gadget guy.”

“Since I was a kid, I’ve been very mechanical, very inquisitive,” he said. “I'm one of those people who likes to take things apart and reassemble them.”

Now Tyrie, who is managing director and head of advanced solutions and digital banking at Bank of America, is able to use his natural interest in being an early adopter of new technology to broader advantage.

“More than anything, I really like the ability to show people new and different ways of doing things that are easier, more convenient, and safer,” Tyrie said. “That's where technology comes into play. If you can translate some technical thing that's hard to understand and show somebody how to make it easier, more convenient or safer, that's the ‘aha’ moment.”

A recent example of this is Life Plan, which combines financial planning help in BofA’s mobile app with in-person advice from its financial experts available at branches. It lets clients set financial goals, develop a plan, track progress and make adjustments as life changes. It was launched to some clients in 2019 and will be rolled out nationwide later this year.

David Tyrie, who is managing director and head of advanced solutions and digital banking at Bank of America
"If you can translate some technical thing that's hard to understand and show somebody how to make it easier, more convenient or safer, that's the ‘aha’ moment,” says David Tyrie, managing director and head of advanced solutions and digital banking at Bank of America.

“Clients are constantly juggling the mix of their ever-changing short-term and long-term goals and trying to figure out how to manage cash flow and debt,” Tyrie said. “How does this all come together? The Life Plan gives you your first step and your next best step.”

Life Plan, which seems exceptionally well timed given how the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on people’s finances, is one of several innovations BofA has introduced since Tyrie took on his newly created role in November 2018. The bank has also brought more functionality to Erica, the virtual assistant that some point to as the one setting the bar for the industry, and continued to improve its mobile app. For overseeing all of these advances, American Banker has named David Tyrie one of its Digital Banker of the Year finalists for 2020.

Leading during quarantine

Tyrie has a somewhat unique role in that he oversees online and mobile banking — Erica included — as well as being in charge of strategy for branches, call centers and ATMs.

The role reflects what Tyrie calls BofA’s “high-tech, high-touch” strategy. “At any given moment, based on any given set of circumstances, people may choose to do things in a digital fashion or a face-to-face fashion,” Tyrie said.

The majority of his 3,200 employees have been working from home since the quarantine began, and they’ve been extraordinarily busy.

The team quickly built tools that let credit card holders and mortgage borrowers defer payments, Tyrie said. BofA also was the first major bank to have a digital application ready for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, he said.

The bank has been criticized and is being sued, along with Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and U.S. Bank, for submitting loans from existing business customers through the program first, which some contend unfairly put other applicants at a disadvantage. The banks argue that it was only natural for them to prioritize already vetted customers ahead of unknown businesses because time was of the essence.

Having multiple customer-facing channels under his control has allowed Tyrie to shift resources among groups during the pandemic. For instance, early on the bank realized it needed to make its 4,300 branches, most of which it kept open, safer. He asked 20 branch staff to find companies that could deliver Plexiglas shields and to help install them.

“In a period of two weeks, they installed these Plexiglas shields between the customer and our associates,” Tyrie said.

Read about our other 2020 Digital Banker of the Year honorees:

One change he’s noticed in customers during the pandemic is a massive increase in boomers and seniors using mobile check deposit.

“My mom is a small-business owner and a Bank of America customer, and she loves taking checks down to the bank branch and depositing them,” he said. “Now she's doing mobile check deposit. She would never have done that before.”

Zelle and Erica use has also grown considerably during the pandemic, he said.

“This is an opportunity for people to learn new and different things, and we need to be prepared to teach them those things whenever they need it,” Tyrie said.

In one effort that has helped older customers, the bank modified its system for letting people book appointments in its branches, which typically schedules about 60,000 appointments a month, to set up Zoom calls and video calls.

“We get many people setting up opportunities to say, ‘Hey, walk me through how to do mobile check deposits and how do I pay my niece $50 for her birthday?’ ” Tyrie said.

Making Erica a little better every year

Bank of America was one of the first U.S. banks to build its own virtual assistant, and in some ways Erica sets the bar for the rest of the industry. It launched in 2016 and had 12.2 million active users as of April 15.

“At the moment, Erica is the standard-bearer,” said Emmett Higdon, director of digital banking at Javelin. “Erica brings together a more comprehensive set of data than most other bots or virtual assistants, which allows her to answer a broader variety of questions. Being connected to so many back-end systems, Erica is also able to conduct a wide variety of transactions for customers.”

Higdon noted that Erica can handle some very complex financial interactions, but many customers simply don’t know what to ask.

“Getting that first interaction with the customer is critically important,” he said.

Tyrie has continued building on the foundation laid by Michelle Moore, who was the bank’s head of digital banking when it launched Erica. She left the bank at the end of 2018, and her role was folded into the more expansive one that Tyrie took on.

Holly O’Neill, BofA’s chief client care executive,
Tyrie’s leadership has allowed the bank to merge digital and physical banking in a way that feels seamless for customers, says Holly O’Neill, BofA’s chief client care executive.

Executives who work at other banks sometimes express envy at the amount of money BofA can spend on projects like Erica.

The $2.38 trillion-asset Charlotte, N.C.-based banking company has an annual technology budget of $10 billion. It does not break down the spending, and only part of that would fall under Tyrie’s purview.

Tyrie declined to share how much is allocated for Erica but said the bank spends “tens of millions of dollars a year in that space, and it is consistent every single year.”

As Tyrie sees it, this continuous improvement is key. “That's our competitive advantage — that every single year we’re investing, innovating and changing, and it's consistent year in and year out. That is really hard to keep pace with if you're outside of Bank of America.”

The goal is to be able to respond whenever customers express a need to the chatbot, which requires being able to adapt quickly if something new comes up. That is Erica’s true differentiator, Tyrie said.

“The size of the checkbook also matters,” he acknowledged. “Of course it does. But you can throw a lot of money away if you don't do it the right way. We don't throw money away.”

The Erica team — which consists of 20 developers — recently trained the virtual assistant to understand 60,000 terms, questions and requests related to COVID-19.

Most of the questions were about payment deferrals, the Paycheck Protection Program and government stimulus checks, Tyrie said. Normally, customers ask Erica about monthly spending, recurring charges, specific transactions, their FICO scores and upcoming bills.

Erica also began giving people “personal insights” in late February, Tyrie said. For instance, Erica now tells people if they’ve got two Netflix recurring payments every month. It alerts users to duplicate charges in their accounts. It warns them when they’re going to run out of money.

Some banks have put their virtual assistant plans on hold while they try to figure out how to provide just-in-time proactive insights.

“Providing account insights is the shiny new object right now,” Higdon said. “You see much less talk and interest in virtual assistants and much more of a focus on providing that account insight.”

Erica does not yet get people to take action on the insights it brings to light, Higdon noted.

“Is she engaging me and encouraging me to do something about whatever the insight is about? No, she sits there in the corner,” Higdon said. “There is an awful lot that Erica can do. But unless the customer goes in and is interested enough to play around with the functionality and discover what she can help with, they're never going to get the benefit of that.”

Advancing mobile

“Mobile orders” is another new feature that rolled out to app users this year. When customers are about to travel to another country, they can order foreign currency through the bank’s mobile app and pick it up at a branch.

This is an extension of a feature the bank used to refer to as a “shopping cart,” where customers could start a conversation with an associate at a branch. The associate would drop more information, an application or some other follow-up item into the customer’s online shopping cart so it could be perused at home later.

With the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, demand for both these services is low at the moment.

But the work the team has been doing to make the mobile app easier to use and to add new features appears to be paying off in customer satisfaction.

In a Javelin poll of consumers that gauges their satisfaction with bank apps, most of the top 10 U.S. banks are stuck at around 50%, in terms of how many rate them favorably, Higdon said.

“With the exception of folks who have an affinity relationship like Navy Federal Credit Union or USAA, nobody's higher than that,” Higdon said.

This year, for the first time, BofA is in first place for mobile app ease of use in Javelin’s scorecard, Higdon said.

“That was a category that they missed every year,” mainly because the app was cluttered with features, he said. “It was hard to find things.”

There are still basic functions the app does not allow, like bank-to-bank transfers and recurring Zelle transfers.

“There's still lots of room for improvement to get above that 50% satisfaction,” Higdon said.

Bob Neuhaus, vice president of financial services intelligence at J.D. Power, said that in his company’s measures of digital engagement among banks, in which a high level of engagement is defined as the use of four or more digital tools, BofA and Capital One lead the pack.

“They are setting the pace in digital engagement,” Neuhaus said. “That enables them to have their customers be more self-service and puts less pressure on the contact centers.” The most highly engaged customers are also the more satisfied customers, he said.

Work and home

Tyrie’s career path reflects his early interest in new technology.

In the '90s, he built a database marketing system for Fidelity, then started its website for retail clients just as the dot-com boom was starting. He later became head of corporate internet strategy at Putnam.

He joined Bank of America in 2010 on the securities side of the business and transitioned into his current role in late 2018.

Holly O’Neill, BofA’s chief client care executive, said Tyrie’s leadership in this new role has allowed the bank to merge digital and physical banking in a way that feels seamless for customers.

O’Neill also gave him credit for keeping the improvements coming. “Through David’s vision and creativity, we’re constantly raising the bar on client experience through our digital capabilities,” she said.

BofA had 39.1 million active digital banking users as of the end of the first quarter, a 6% increase from the fourth quarter. The number of mobile banking users grew 10% in the same time frame to 29.8 million.

Tyrie supervises 3,200 employees. They include the Advanced Client Solutions team, which is made up of more than 2,100 employees who communicate with consumer and commercial clients by voice, video and chat. He also oversees a digital banking team of about 400 employees, 100 people who work on financial center design, placement and strategy, and the 20-member Erica development team.

"Erica is so different than anything else that goes on,” Tyrie said in discussing the chatbot developers. “It's a data-driven capability. They're also the first line of servicing support for our customers. So we created a very small yet very capable and sophisticated group who are maniacally focused on helping our clients and are also really good at understanding data and then taking that data and turning it back into action for our client.”

Outside of work, Tyrie focuses on his family. He lives in Boston with his wife and four children, ages 15 through 22.

“I like to go home and fix stuff, very mechanical, kind of a handyman-type thing,” he said. “If somebody says the window is broken downstairs, I'm on that first.”

The entire family loves to surf, with many of their outings being at two favorite beaches, in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. “That's a family adventure that all six of us do,” Tyrie said.

Going forward

What Tyrie likes most about his job, he said, is attacking problems.

“How come certain populations aren't using mobile check deposit?” he said. “That's a silly little example, but going through the emotional quotient side of things and trying to understand the behavioral drivers and the challenge of being able to solve that riddle. And when you do solve it, that's pretty cool.”

That’s also the hardest part of his job, he said.

“It’s frustrating because there's no blueprint. Nobody has those answers,” Tyrie said. “It's all uncharted territory, especially in digital, and nobody's seen a pandemic like this before. How do you approach that situation? What does it mean to customers?”

There is a component to service, especially at a time of crisis, that hinges on emotional intelligence, or EQ, which has to be part of the digital strategy, he stressed. “Are you connecting on that EQ side of things? That's the difference,” Tyrie said.

The pandemic has caused all businesses to reassess their plans for the rest of 2020, and Tyrie aims to expedite the initiatives he had planned.

Ongoing work on the paycheck program and debt forgiveness tools are taking priority for the time being.

But Tyrie also intends to continue developing Life Plan, trying to make the BofA app easier to use and improving integration with Merrill Lynch and the private bank.

“We have a constant drumbeat of projects, and we won't miss a beat on any of that,” he said.

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