B of A's Gopalkrishnan Uses 'Hackathons' to Create Mobile Apps

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  • We heard it again and again from Charaka Kithulegoda and other bankers honored in our Mobile Banker of the Year package this year: simplicity and ease of use are the keys to sound mobile banking app design.
    June 3

Like most of the bankers we profiled this year, Hari Gopalkrishnan, managing director, consumer and wealth management, ecommerce technology, consumer banking architecture and segments technology executive for Bank of America Merrill Lynch speaks of simplicity in mobile banking design and user experience.

"Simplicity and relevance are our focus, and not just for our mobile channel," Gopalkrishnan says. "People don't live to bank; financial institutions are there to serve their day-to-day needs. We have to be humble and recognize we need to be relevant and in the context of what they do when they want to do it." Reliability and security are table stakes, he says.

On the relevance front, Gopalkrishnan notes the need to be realistic about what banking tasks belong on a mobile device. Bill payment and person-to-person payments, reporting lost cards and real-time notifications of cash back on a purchase are all relevant to consumers on the go. The abillity to order new checks is less relevant.

The bank is rolling out the ability to provide real-time alerts to customers when they qualify for a merchant-funded discount through its BankAmeriDeals program. Bank of America launched BankAmeriDeals in May. The program lets customers choose the cash-back deals they want through their online or mobile banking account. The customer then pays at the corresponding retailer with their Bank of America debit or credit card, and cash is automatically put back into their account. The program uses in-depth analysis of customer sentiment and customer behavior — examining petabytes of data — to produce relevant deals for customers. The data analysis matches an individual's spending behavior with targeted merchant offers.

Being innovative can be a challenge when you operate at the scale Bank of America does. The bank has 12 million mobile banking customers; about 14,000 customers sign up for mobile access each day. On average, more than 850,000 Bank of America customers deposit checks via their mobile devices each week.

The bank gets many of its new mobile banking projects through a unique idea generation program called Momentum. "Typically, when you think of idea generation you think of people sitting in front of a white board and coming up with lots of interesting ideas and brainstorming," Gopalkrishnan says. "Momentum goes a step further. We lock the most talented people on the business and development side into a room for a week to come up with ideas. A week later, we have 20 prototypes of working code for iPhone, iPad and Android devices that you can kick the tires of. It's taking agile and accelerating it to the next level."

This aligns with the trend toward hackathons, in which developers spend a weekend hashing out ideas and building programs. Emerging technologies Gopalkrishnan is exploring include voice biometrics and geolocation.

In 2012, the bank rolled out mobile check deposit for the Bank of America mobile app. It was one of the first to have a Windows 8 app.

It introduced email and mobile money transfers in July 2012. This lets Bank of America customers transfer money to friends, family and co-workers using their email address or mobile number. The person-to-person payments are driven by clearXchange, which the bank owns jointly with J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

The bank also updated its mobile application so customers can manage account alerts via their mobile device. Bank of America offers more than 50 alerts, including alerts for low balances, online card usage and irregular card activity.

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