AUSTIN, Texas — They’ve been honored for their work in building out their banks' digital offerings, but where do Michelle Moore of Bank of America, Andy Hernandez of Regions Bank and Jamie Armistead of Bank of the West look for inspiration?

“Definitely not financial services,” Armistead, executive vice president of digital channels for San Francisco-based Bank of the West, said at American Banker’s Digital Banking Summit.

During a panel discussion about how banks can transform their digital offerings from transaction tools to services that their customers love, the three bankers were asked which companies or products they admire. Their picks shed some light on how the digital leaders approach their work.

From left: American Banker's Penny Crosman, B of A's Michelle Moore, Regions Financial's Andy Hernandez, and Bank of the West's Jamie Armistead.
App idols
When American Banker’s Penny Crosman (far left) asked whose mobile services they liked, B of A’s Michelle Moore lauded retailer and food chain apps that tied into store experiences; Regions Financial’s Andy Hernandez said he is “addicted” to the traffic app Waze; and Bank of the West’s Jamie Armistead (far right) cited Uber and Google’s commitment to constant improvement.

Armistead, who was a 2015 Digital Banker of the Year finalist, pointed to Instagram, Uber and Google for their devotion to constant improvements instead of frequently chasing the next big thing. He noted that Google, despite all of its various projects, still has a team dedicated to constantly improving its search engine.

That is not how many banks approach innovation. However, banks such as USAA, often considered to be at the cutting edge of innovation, have begun moving in that direction. For instance, USAA has teams devoted to discrete functions like depositing checks and has tasked them with constantly looking for ways to improve those functions.

Hernandez, who heads e-business for Regions and was a 2017 Digital Banker of the Year finalist, said he is “addicted” to Waze, a traffic app that picks the fastest route based on real-time input from other drivers. Hernandez said that his devotion to Waze stems from its ability to warn if there is a traffic jam ahead and automatically reroute him.

That predictive feature fits squarely into the current buzz in banking about tools that use data and artificial intelligence to help people manage their financial lives. While banking apps might not tell people that there is a backup on the freeway, the hope is that they can warn people that their current spending habits are going to leave them broke.

Finally, Moore, who heads digital banking at B of A and is the 2017 Digital Banker of the Year, praised Pottery Barn, Panera Bread and Starbucks for connecting their apps with their physical stores. For B of A, the interaction between the digital and mobile world has been an important focus. For instance, Moore often touts the 30,000 appointments with bankers that its customers book each week via mobile.

Moore also pointed to the shopping cart functions on the Pottery Barn and Nordstrom apps as good tools because they allow people to save selections and return to various tasks.

Banks are increasingly focused on figuring out how to build new relationships digitally, and Moore pointed to the need for simplicity. For instance, the bank saw a 30% increase in new savings accounts in one month when it streamlined the application for existing customers down to one page.