Amy Woods Brinkley, Bank of America Corp.'s newly named executive in charge of consumer products, sees her role as building "horizontal highways" to make it easy for customers to use more bank services.
A credit card customer, for example, should not have to worry about communication between the front office of the card unit and the processing office to correct billing mistakes, she said. And if that same customer applies for a mortgage, it should not be necessary to ask for information already held by the card division.
"The customer could care less about our structure and organization," Ms. Brinkley, 43, said in an interview. "We aren't a separate Bank of America card services company and mortgage company."
One of the highest-ranking women at Bank of America, Ms. Brinkley oversees cards, consumer finance, interactive banking, and the mortgage company -- 33,000 employees of the Charlotte, N.C., banking company. She reports to president Kenneth Lewis.
He and others say she has the talent and dedication to succeed. Chief executive officer Hugh McColl described Ms. Brinkley as a rising star who could one day sit at the very top of the company.
"Amy Brinkley has been a key member of our leadership team as our company has grown into this country's first nationwide bank," Mr. McColl said. "The breadth of her knowledge and experience ... gives her a unique view of our customers' needs and makes her the right person for this role."
Ms. Brinkley said, "My goal is to make as big a difference for the company as I can." On one occasion that meant making a presentation to Mr. McColl in a body cast after she was in a car accident. "That defined her commitment and courage," said Lynn Drury, the company's head of corporate communications.
Profits in Ms. Brinkley's consumer banking division were little changed during the first six months of the year -- $1.856 billion versus $1.851 billion a year earlier. Wall Street analysts said they were not overly concerned.
David Stumpf, an analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis, said, "I don't find it surprising" that consumer bank earnings were stagnant after the September 1998 merger of BankAmerica Corp. with NationsBank Corp., creating the new Bank of America.
Raphael Soifer of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. said that with banks in general facing declining revenue growth, "Over time Bank of America should do better than the run of the industry. Most of its business is in the West and Southeast, regions growing faster than the rest of the country."
"The challenge is to slow and eliminate the customer dislocations that naturally happen in a consolidation and begin to rebuild," Mr. Stumpf said.
Consumer deposit and loan growth have been strong since the beginning of the year, Ms. Brinkley said, though specific figures have not been disclosed.
She said Bank of America's credit card division is in fine shape relative to that of rival Bank One Corp., which recently reported problems with its First USA Inc. card unit. "The business is doing well, particularly in August," she said in an interview last week. Fees are strong and losses are low, she said. Bank of America is the largest debit card issuer, and Ms. Brinkley said "that business is growing tremendously."
On the interactive banking side, Ms. Brinkley said, "we are a leader," with 1.5 million customers on-line and a full fledged Web site selling many products. The company "will try some things outside of the box," which she declined to specify.
Because all of the areas she oversees are "already well run," Ms. Brinkley said, she sees her job as smoothing the way for offering multiple products to customers. She said she looks for "what great opportunities are available for integration, to create profitable relationships with customers."
Though the company in recent years has emphasized growth through acquisition, she said, the key now is to get the business functions, from checking accounts to home equity credit, working harmoniously. The opportunity to grow now is "working horizontally across the company," she said.
"We've got a great technological infrastructure and arguably the most diverse set of products for any financial institution," Ms. Brinkley said. "Now we have to make it all work for the customer -- through horizontal highways."
As an example, she cited the company's Advantage account, which offers free checking and credit cards to customers who have loans or savings above a certain level. And under the bank's Money Manager program, customers can combine their checking and investment accounts.
Those who use more than one of the bank's products are two-and-a-half to five times as profitable as regular customers and have a retention rate 7 to 9 percentage points higher, Ms. Brinkley said.
In the past, the bank had more of a selling strategy than a relationship strategy with customers, she said. "There have been a lot of products being delivered through different channels," she said. The result was "things being dumped on the customer. From the customer side, that's not a great experience."
Now bank officials will try to see things from the customer's perspective and minimize the difficulties they face, Ms. Brinkley said. "We will focus more resources on customers who come into one channel needing information from other channels"
Ms. Brinkley joined Bank of America/NationsBank predecessor NCNB Corp. in 1978 after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She began as a management trainee in the commercial credit department and was a corporate banking officer for the Asia-Pacific area from 1980 to 1984.
She established a consumer credit policy function in 1987 and was promoted to executive vice president in charge of that area in 1990. She was named to her last post, director of marketing, in 1993.
Ms. Brinkley is not the first woman in her family to make a professional mark. Her great-grandmother was a physician -- and a missionary in China. Many senior-level women at the old BankAmerica left or were demoted after the merger, leading to some newspaper articles that pointed fingers at the old NationsBank's allegedly male-dominated culture.
Ms. Brinkley said she has not seen any evidence of sex discrimination at NationsBank or Bank of America. "My experience with this company is that everyone has the same opportunity -- a truly inclusive meritocracy," she said, echoing Mr. McColl's public statements on the subject. "There is a great commitment to that inclusive meritocracy at the most senior levels. I've always felt that from Hugh McColl and Ken Lewis."
Colleagues give Ms. Brinkley high marks for her six-year tenure as head of marketing. Lynn Drury, who worked closely with Ms. Brinkley, said she "is a great strategic thinker and an extraordinarily hard worker."
Ms. Brinkley led the project to decide on the surviving corporate name after last year's merger. "Not only did we have to conduct an enormous amount of research," Ms. Drury said. "But once we made the final decision that Bank of America would be the name, there was a huge execution to announce that to employees and the rest of the world."
It was people's greater awareness of the Bank of America name that tipped the scales in its favor, Ms. Brinkley said. "There are so many hearts and minds in that market," Ms. Brinkley said. "That swayed us."
When she was head of marketing, Ms. Brinkley was already working on providing multiple products to customers. Helen Eggers, who reported to Ms. Brinkley as director of brand and communications in the marketing department, said, "The area where she took leadership was helping to organize a working model to better address customer needs -- breaking down historical silos" that prevented the "seamlessness" that bank marketers are striving for.
Associates say Ms. Brinkley is fun-loving, despite her intense work ethic. When NationsBank was a sponsor of the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ms. Brinkley organized a management team into a mock basketball squad, giving the members "flattering" red shorts to wear to meetings, Ms. Eggers said.
As chairman of the North Carolina Dance Theatre board of trustees, Ms. Brinkley holds annual parties for the dancers, their friends, and board members. "That kind of thing shows she's involved because she has a passion for dance and a human interest in the dancers," said fellow board member Tom Wilson.