October 08, 2013

Many banks today are struggling with how to replace or upgrade decades-old legacy systems. For even the smallest bank, this can be a highly complicated task. But overseeing a conversion project that affects some 18 million deposit accounts can be infinitely more daunting.

That was the task facing Bridget O'Connor, CIO, consumer banking technology and operations, legacy asset servicing technology, for Bank of America (Charlotte, N.C.; $2.125 trillion in assets), who in the summer of 2012 led the process as the bank began a core systems replacement for its West Coast operations. California and Pacific Northwest branches ran on different core platforms, and O'Connor's team was tasked with bringing those locations onto the company's U.S.-wide system. After that, Bank of America converted its Military Bank customers to the standard platform. All the conversions were completed in June of this year.

"The absolute size and scope of this conversion was very large -- around 18 million customers," O'Connor notes.

The scope of the project involved "tens of thousands" of mailings to inform customers of the impending change and "hundreds of thousands" of training hours to get employees who serve those areas up to speed. O'Connor and her team spent more than 1 million combined hours of technology development and testing to ensure that the conversions would go smoothly, she says.

The project was part of Bank of America's overall focus on simplification of its processes and technologies. The conversion eliminated about 150 redundant products, O'Connor says.

The training for employees who were affected by the conversions was also a huge undertaking, O'Connor relates, and her team worked closely with the business side on this. "That interaction between technology and the business was strong. The amount of testing and dress rehearsals we conducted enabled the conversion to go smoothly," she adds. "We were ready to deliver a great customer experience from day one. We had our mission control room running, and I think we could now write a book on how to successfully manage complex transitions."

The primary lesson learned from the conversion is that having strong project management in place and a rigorous commitment to testing are key to successfully managing undertakings of this magnitude, O'Connor says.

"I still remember the weekends we met debating 'go or no go,' and the plans and discussions we had with senior leaders of the business," she says. "They were all completely involved and wanted nothing more than to make sure we were getting it right and not just getting it done. It's that kind of business partnership that allowed us to manage this so well."

O'Connor and her team have also played a key role in reforming and reimagining Bank of America's retail branches using mobile technology. She has been a driving force behind the bank's "lobby leaders" initiative. Lobby leaders greet customers as they enter a branch and can use handheld technology to assist customers directly or quickly get them to the proper associate for assistance. Further, some banking center associates are equipped with iPads in order to provide demos and tutorials of Bank of America's online and mobile banking capabilities, as well as being able to immediately share financial education videos with customers who are interested.

"As we look at modernization and the customer-driven architecture, we examined all of our different channels," she says. "With the rollout of tablets, we're seeing that our personal bankers have more flexibility to move around the banking center, and this allows us to simplify our customers' interactions. We're helping them ... become better educated on what products may be best suited to meet their needs."

Tablets Enable Interactions

Bringing tablets into the equation, O'Connor says, allows for more dynamic customer interaction. For example, customers interested in speaking to a personal banker can schedule a time, and when they enter the branch at that time are greeted by a lobby leader who can quickly direct them to the proper associate. Lobby leaders aren't in every Bank of America branch, initially being deployed in high-volume locations.