BB&T said Tuesday that it will set aside $50 million to invest in or acquire emerging financial technology companies in an effort to lower operating costs and improve the customer experience.

The Winston-Salem, N.C., company said that the investment would help it “secure a competitive advantage” in the marketplace.

"This sizable investment in financial technology companies represents an important strategic milestone in our digital business transformation," Kelly King, the chairman and CEO of the $215 billion-asset BB&T, said in a press release. "We're excited about the possibility of new partnerships and innovative approaches to provide the best possible experience for our clients."

BB&T Chairman and Chief Executive Kelly King
"This sizable investment in financial technology companies represents an important strategic milestone in our digital business transformation," said Kelly King, BB&T's chief executive. Bloomberg News

BB&T’s digital transformation began in earnest in 2015, when it named longtime executive Bennett Bradley as its first-ever chief digital officer and promoted him to the executive management team. Later that year it also released a new digital platform — called U by BB&T — that lets customers personalize their banking experience by setting color schemes, profile pictures and which features they want to access after logging in, among other things.

The move comes at a time when banks are becoming more aggressive in acquiring financial technology companies. Just this week, for example, Toronto-based TD Bank announced it has acquired the artificial intelligence firm Layer 6, which uses technology to offer personalized and predictive communications to financial services customers.

JPMorgan Chase recently acquired the electronic payments firm WePay and has struck partnerships with a number of fintechs, including the small-business lender OnDeck and, most recently, AutoFi, a startup that works through car dealers to connect lenders and buyers.

Overall, many banks expect to increase fintech investment in 2018. A study released in December found that 82% of U.S. commercial banks plan to increase fintech investment over the next three years; 86% of bank senior managers surveyed said they intend to boost fintech funding imminently.

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Bryan Yurcan

Bryan Yurcan

Bryan Yurcan is a senior writer with American Banker, with a focus on financial technology.