Digital banking took off during the pandemic. Banks looking to capitalize on the trend should balance 'cool versus creepy' when leveraging customer data.

Digital banking took off during the pandemic. Banks looking to capitalize on the trend should balance 'cool versus creepy' when leveraging customer data.
"Future of Finance," an Insider virtual event, was presented on June 8, 2021.Insider
  • Digital banking adoption surged during the pandemic, especially among those age 65+.
  • Industry leaders say real-time individualization using AI and machine learning is the future.
  • The conversation was part of Insider's virtual event, "Future of Finance," presented by Grayscale, on June 8th, 2021.

Digital banking services won big during the pandemic as consumers flocked to online alternatives to meet their needs. For an industry dominated by large incumbent institutions that can oftentimes be slow to change, the pandemic constituted a quantum leap in technological progress.

"It's kind of unfortunate that it took a global pandemic to change some of the burning desires into a burning platform to really move towards digital channels," said Michael Tang, partner and head of global digital transformation for financial services at consulting firm Deloitte.

"But if there's a silver lining at all, even in one of the most regulated industries such as financial services, organizations have absolutely proved that they can actually move at that great pace, velocity, and agility to meet these customers' demand."

Tang made these comments during Insider's recent virtual event, "Future of Finance," presented by Grayscale, which took place on June 8, 2021.

This panel, titled "Digital Transformation in Banking," was moderated by Carter Johnson, finance reporter at Insider and featured Tang along with David Tyrie, head of digital at Bank of America (BofA).


The pandemic accelerated adoption of digital banking services across all age groups, not just among young people. Some 89% of banking customers overall now use mobile banking tools, including 79% of baby boomers, per Insider Intelligence's Mobile Banking Competitive Edge Study released this February.

Banks benefited massively this year from this year's uptick in demand for digital services. David Tyrie said that BofA normally brings in around 1 million new digitally active users in total each year. This year, Tyrie said, it brought in just as many digitally active users in the first quarter alone.

Tyrie said the 65+ age group is the bank's fastest-growing cohort in terms of digital adoption.

"People are actually coming in because of the uncertainty that's out there, and looking for reassurance, looking for advice and guidance," he sais. "And that's been a big focus area for our customer base."

The pandemic drove up BofA's customer acquisition share through digital channels up from 30% to 50%. Tyrie said the bank's customers, regardless of specific demographics and preferences, share the same fundamental banking needs - such as ease, convenience, safety, relevance, and partnership.


Tyrie said BofA is investing in real-time "individualization" of the digital experience for customers through an integrated platform, rather than "personalization," which he said siloed different types of customers into using different pre-determined platforms based on their perceived needs. Individualization uses tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning to tailor digital customer interactions as they occur.

"That means that if you're a Bank of America customer, or a Merrill Lynch customer, or small-business customer, you actually go into one app, and it assembles itself," Tyrie said.

"There are obvious benefits to that because you're building once and you're being able to then deploy in a box multiple lines of business, rather than building a Merrill Lynch mobile application and a private bank application and a small business application across the board."

Tang said one of the biggest challenges of growth in individualization is the inconsistency around data regulations globally. He said that institutions must decide where to draw the line between reducing friction for customers versus using data too liberally.

"You always have to balance that cool versus creepy aspect," Tang said of implementing an individualization strategy.


Fast-moving fintech startups and disruptors outside the financial services industry have challenged incumbents to invest heavily in digital transformation. Tyrie said that BofA has accelerated its pace of technical releases from once a quarter to once every 28 to 32 days.

Tyrie outlined three key ways in which institutions can continue to drive momentum in terms of digital transformation. He said they should focus on making banking easy and safe for customers, provide omni-channel solutions that unite high-tech and high-touch/face-to-face interactions, and continue to invest in individualization.