Bank Of America Private Bank's Growing Digital Momentum, Advisor Headcount

Tom Burroughes Group Editor February 25, 2022

Bank Of America Private Bank's Growing Digital Momentum, Advisor Headcount

A few weeks after reporting financial results for 2021, a senior figure in BoA's private banking arm talks to Family Wealth Report.

Bank of America’s recent fourth-quarter 2021 and full-year figures showed that its private bank is in rude health. And its data on how clients use services suggest more intense and wide-ranging use of digital channels. Clients also want to talk more.

Figures showed that a record 85 per cent of clients are “digitally active across the enterprise,” 74 per cent of checks were deposited through automated channels, and transactions in digital wallets rose 60 per cent in the quarter. Interactions via BoA’s virtual assistant, “Erica,” rose 418 per cent; those via the Zelle® money transfer system rose 45 per cent. The private bank has a total of $625 billion in client balances and added about 500 new client relationships in the fourth quarter of this year.

That clients are using channels such as mobile apps, or engaging with chat functions, two-way video and interactive channels is nothing new. Even before the pandemic, the use of automated functions was rising. But clearly COVID-19 has accelerated it considerably, and the impact is lasting. 

The story of digital is part of Bank of America’s private bank integration with its parent organization, giving high net worth and ultra-HNW clients access to the financial and intellectual firepower of the bank, Jeff Busconi told this news service recently. He is head of the recently-formed Products, Services and Platforms organization covering trust and wealth structuring, investments, banking, philanthropy and art services. 

“Digital engagement continues to rise. The big shift is that we are seeing more active use of digital…clients aren’t just checking their balances but using platforms to send instructions, sign forms and shift investment,” he said.  

Digitalization is helping to boost advisors’ productivity and increase client coverage. Advisors can spend more time on value-added activity, he continued. “The way we see it is that there are more client meetings and conversations in general. The number of client meetings we are having is higher than before the pandemic. Our teams had over 400,000 meetings last year with clients, Busconi said.  

The firm has gone from having about 300 advisors two years ago to a headcount of 500 today; it is on course to rise to 600 in the next year or so, a doubling, he continued.

Family Wealth Report asked why the new group, which Busconi now leads, was formed. 

“Creating the [private bank] organization mirrors how we look after clients. As a business, our goal is to serve the holistic needs of clients. By creating this new organization, we can help ensure we are delivering world class solutions across the full spectrum of client needs – from wealth planning to investments to trust services. We now manage our full set of solutions within one team,” he said. 

“For the private bank and our clients, one of the great advantages we have is we are deeply integrated with the other lines of business at Bank of America. We can meet the wealth management needs of our clients in the broadest sense,” he continued.

“Our clients own businesses, run family offices and are senior executives of companies. One of the things we can do to help them is give them access to the capabilities of the broader enterprise,” he said. 

He gave an example of how work with clients is handled: “A private banker had been working with the client, the founder of a medical technology company based in the Northeast, for over a decade. Recently the client mentioned he wanted to sell a company in his portfolio. Accordingly, the private banker surrounded the client with our planning team to map out strategic exit options, estate planning and tax implications, and ultimately introduced our investment banking team to execute the transaction.”

“The transaction closed last year – the company was sold to a large medical services firm aiming to build out a virtual-first health plan. The private banker, in partnership with his wealth strategist and business owner strategist, is now working with the client post liquidity on investment and philanthropic strategies,” he said. 

The organization has changed – Bank of America Private Bank is the name of the old US Trust brand and changed a year ago. The renaming has “gone extremely well”.

What are clients concerned about? 

Busconi said areas of concern are estate planning, philanthropy and legacy planning. “The pandemic has accelerated this thinking and reinforced this mindset,” he said. 

Conversations with clients have surged since 2018, by about two times that level, he said. “Our team of wealth planners conducted over 11,000 sessions last year with clients and prospects, nearly double pre-pandemic levels,” he said. 

“We have seen huge amounts of activity around the wealth and estate planning space. On tax, we have been in an environment where they have been planning for US changes at the federal level for several years. There has been a lot of conversation around it,” he said. 

One reason for more conversations about wealth/business transfer is because people, working from home with their families, have spoken more to other family members about these issues, Busconi added.

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