Digging this gig

With mobile treasury services, build-it-with-the-customer dev ops and an open mind when it comes to payment rails, Bank of America’s Brian Bonds says it’s meeting app-based corporate clients on their own terms

Paying suppliers instantly for their services has not been the traditional way that firms do business. But in the gig economy, it is becoming the norm – driven by a desire by companies to keep their suppliers on side in a fast-growing and competitive marketplace. The ridesharing industry is a prime example where drivers expect rapid payment, and can easily switch platforms if they don’t get it.

Providing banking to the US tech giants has long been the focus of Bank of America (BoA) – which has a strong presence in the tech temple of San Francisco – and meeting their fast-changing needs has shaped how the bank does business.

The app-based economy has created new demands on payment services for corporate customers, both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B), and each has different priorities as to the most important aspect of that payment, although realtime is often high on the list.

“In the past, no one really wanted to pay anyone faster – in fact, you would probably want to pay them slower,” says Brian Bonds, the bank’s global industry vertical lead for tech, media and telecom in global transaction services. “Traditionally, banking customers would put cost above speed. But today, particularly with the gig economy, it’s the end-to-end experience that often matters most.

“Taking the example of a ridesharing company, it’s very important that, if I’m getting the ride, my experience of making the payment as a customer is satisfactory to me. But it’s also very important that the person at the end of the transaction, the driver, gets the payment in a way that’s a good experience for him or her. If not, both the customer and the driver will switch to a different platform that offers a better, faster, more seamless payment experience.”

The services BoA’s customers provide are often revolutionary, their potential for growth phenomenal and scaleup almost instant – they can roll out services across the globe within months, not years.

Bonds says: “In the old world, companies would have maybe five or six or countries, that they operated in, so currency management wasn’t a significant factor. Now, these companies, at least the ones in San Francisco’s Bay Area, could be operating in as many as 180 countries and making payments in multiple currencies.

“For many tech companies, a large swath of their product offering is often provided to users through an app and so they are not confined by geography. Whether it’s a ridesharing, apartment-sharing or hotelling concept, once a firm has got the model working here, they can pretty much offer the app anywhere in the world. That means currency management is a big deal for them.”

Bonds explains that BoA now consults with clients at proof-of-concept stage, demonstrating ideas and getting feedback early about how solutions should perform.

“San Francisco is the home of the legacy Bank of America – we’ve always had a huge presence here and we’ve been with many of the major tech names since their inception. They are the innovators of their own business models. Take rideshare and homeshare services – these weren’t around 10 years ago. It’s all new. We work with these types of clients to provide solutions for their unique business models. That pushes our product development teams to come up with cost-efficient, faster and more seamless ways of making payments,” says Bonds.

“What’s most important to us, though, is not building products and pushing them to our clients, but rather working together with clients on proof of concepts when the architecture is open, allowing them to be part of the design.”

The $1.6billion breakthrough

The tech companies that are taking over the world one app at a time naturally demand the most tech-savvy financial services. And it doesn’t get more impressive than the $1.6billion transaction carried out over a mobile device – the biggest ever recorded using mobile technology – conducted by a corporate treasurer using BoA’s CashPro Mobile app.

Recognising the solid security offered by modern devices, and the desire by treasury staff to unchain themselves from their desks, CashPro Mobile allows employees to work remotely. Its users reportedly made $160billion of transactions in 2019.

CashPro Mobile features include access to an automated clearing house for low-value, high-volume transactions. It lets users view, sign and share documents, and provides realtime payments in the US. Another function is digitised know-your-customer refresh, so that companies can upload the required documentation to the platform instead of using email.

Bonds believes more people should trust the inherent security of mobile – he rarely pays by physical card himself, since the digital token system employed by digital wallets protects against fraud.

He says: “The CashPro app allows a treasurer to check balances or approve a payment wherever they are, even using an Apple watch.

“At the end of the day, treasury departments are not getting bigger. People are having to do a lot more with less and it’s become more than a nine-to-five job, so making it easier to accomplish some of their tasks will have a huge benefit regarding the way our clients interact with us, and the client experience.

“So much of what our clients are asking for – and what we’re providing – is about realtime. Realtime payments, realtime reporting and realtime information. By using AI and robotics, digitalisation and dashboards, we are speeding up the flow of information to clients, allowing them to make better realtime decisions while also freeing them up to manage their business,” says Bonds.

Another tool in the works for the bank’s corporate clients is Bank of America’s online chatbot Erica, which was originally built for personal banking customers.

“Treasury staff will be able to ask Erica questions such as ‘what’s the balance of my accounts?’ or ‘can you follow up on this item?’,” Bonds explains.

“Having bots providing answers means our clients don’t have to spend time making phone calls or typing emails. However, even if they still choose to type emails, we’ll have the ability to screen them as they come in, using AI and robotics to see what questions can be answered before having to go to a human. This improves the speed of response. Our customers will see more of these services deployed in the near future.

“Our clients in the new economy are very demanding and, in order to survive, we have to recognise the rapid change of pace in technology. AI and robotics are vital to improving the client experience.”

Looking to the future of payments, Bonds does not worry about the proliferation of platforms – because he believes it means clients can find a system that most closely meets their needs.

He says: “Instead of pushing people to use a certain payment rail, we’re opening up their choices. The fact is, our clients’ customers want to have alternatives.

“From a large corporate perspective, crossborder, automated clearing houses have arrived, so clients have access to onshore clearing houses to make lower value payments that we didn’t have in the past. It’s a great alternative to a high-value wire. Realtime payments is another alternative. I feel people really want to have the choice, based on what their underlying experience is. As the gig economy develops, people are pushing us to offer more, not less. I don’t see that changing.”

This article was published in The Fintech Finance Magazine: Issue #15, Page 76 & 77.

Author: Yash Hirani

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