BofA adapting consumer tech for use with corporate clients

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What will the future of corporate banking, transaction services and supply chains look like?

At the SIBOS conference last week, Bank of America executives spoke of some of the technologies they’re experimenting with now to determine which seem viable in the long run. Chief among those are artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, virtual assistants (including expanding consumer-facing Erica to commercial banking), distributed ledgers and application programming interfaces.

"While no one can predict the future, what we can do is help companies be prepared for drastic changes to their company or disruptions to the marketplace," says Stephanie Wolf, head of business, government and financial institutions sales for BofA's Global Transaction Services unit. "We know these will inevitably occur. Our goal therefore for investing and innovating in new technologies is to arm treasurers with the tools that can help them be dynamic and agile, and to manage their business holistically — from the customer base to the supply base."

Ayeesha Sachedina, head of cross-product solutions at Global Transaction Services, focuses on where emerging and disruptive technologies like AI, blockchain, cloud, robotic process automation, internet of things and 5G can be relevant. One place her team has already deployed AI is in cross-border wire payments.

Ayeesha Sachedina, Ad van der Poel, Tom Durkin
Bank of America is deploying bots, AI and blockchain technology in its corporate banking and payments offerings, according to executives Ayeesha Sachedina, Ad van der Poel and Tom Durkin.

One way they use AI is to help clients optimize their working capital.

“We are in the middle of launching a cash-forecasting product that uses predictive analytics to forecast where our clients have their cash positions, and help them to better optimize their working capital, across not only their Bank of America footprint, but all of their bank presences,” Sachedina said. “That allows clients to automate their internal processes and make better decisions.”

In a third use of AI in corporate banking, Bank of America has started deploying the virtual assistant Erica, which is currently embedded in its mobile banking app and used by 15 million consumers, to help automate service and advice for its CashPro clients. CashPro is the company's online banking software for large businesses.

“It’s become a great employee tool our servicing teams can use, where they're able to type in or speak questions,” said Tom Durkin, global product head for CashPro. “The technology aggregates information from as many as 10 different systems that they might have to refer to before they can give an answer, whether they're on the phone with a client or with an internal associate. It's changed the servicing model in terms of getting quick access to information.”

Customers might also be able to use Erica directly, to ask questions about their payments — for instance, did this payment get to Singapore?

And employees have been trained to use and code their own bots, to automate repetitive tasks such as pulling reports.

“It bridges some of the historical knowledge that has resided within the technology organization into the line of business,” Sachedina said. “You see that shift in skill set, which is fascinating. I'm sure as the years go by, we'll see more and more of that.”

During SIBOS, BofA announced three new application programming interfaces for CashPro clients. These allow corporate customers to handle banking tasks from within other applications they use in their daily lives, such as enterprise resource planning software. One of the new APIs lets clients directly manage cross-border payments from within another application. Another provides the ability to directly retrieve check images. The third lets customers pull and schedule reports from CashPro.

The cross-border payment API automates some of the manual work that occurs when banks and customers exchange foreign exchange rate information.

“I wouldn't be surprised if many are still exchanging that via an Excel spreadsheet,” Durkin said. “So moving that to an environment where you have real-time access to that information from your trading system or your ERP system, then setting the stage for a potential guaranteed rate based upon expected amounts to trade, that's something we're seeing more clients take advantage of.”

In cross-border payments, Bank of America has also been experimenting with multiple ways to achieve real-time payments, according to Ad van der Poel, co-head of product management for Global Transaction Services in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

One is cross-border automated clearinghouse, which is cross-border access through local clearinghouses, whether they’re real-time payments or more traditional ACH. Bank of America has been offering this for some time.

“The challenge, still though, in that area is that you're very dependent on the rules within that domestic clearing,” he said. “Making changes to payment scheme rules takes time.”

In another path to faster cross-border payments, BofA has been working with distributed-ledger technology provided by Ripple to see how it operates, if it can keep up with high volumes and if it’s an option for the future.

But the bank’s key partner for cross-border payments is Swift.

“One of the key things to make cross-border payments a success is reachability,” van der Poel said. “In order to achieve reachability, you need to have a community. You need to have a lot of players connected. Whether they are banks, nonbank financial institutions, payment service providers of any kind, they all need to be connected to achieve that reachability. Swift is still the solution that has most of that collaboration going on.”

Bank of America has been using Swift GPI, the organization’s payment tracking software.

“Those payments that have gone via GPI, 95% of those are now completed on the same day,” van der Poel said. “About 40% of those are done within five minutes. On top of that, Swift is working on a transaction management platform; they're creating something that goes beyond messaging and transaction tracing.”

Card networks like Visa, Mastercard and American Express are also working on cross-border payment solutions. Bank of America is talking to all of them and considering their offerings, he said.

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Digital banking Digital Banking 2020 Commercial banking Artificial intelligence RPA Virtual assistants Blockchain Distributed ledger technology APIs Building a future ready financial enterprise