When Insider Intelligence spoke with David Tyrie, head of digital at Bank America, about what role he has played in the bank’s digital transformation, he gave us a caveat about thinking of the digital function as a separate entity.

“I don’t believe that people should say, ‘There’s a digital strategy.’ I think people should be saying, ‘How do you incorporate digital into your business strategy?’”

Tyrie is one of the executives Insider Intelligence recently spoke with to better understand how heads of digital define their roles and their place in the organization; how trends are shaping their responsibilities; the greatest challenges they face with digital transformation; and the priorities they’ve set for the future.

The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

[Editor’s note: When Insider Intelligence explained that we wanted to cover the role of the head of digital in our interview, David Tyrie immediately was off and running—kick-starting his own interview.]

David Tyrie (DT): Your focus on the head of digital across all banking is very intriguing. Can I throw a framework at you here?

There are about 5,000 banks across the US. There’s probably a head of digital at every one. I think you can catalog and put all 5,000 banks into one of three buckets.

Bucket No. 1 would be banks that are really focused on building features and functionality in their digital properties.

Bucket No. 2 are banks that already have built the features and functionality—and are continuing to build, because that job’s never done. But now they’re focused on driving adoption and getting people to use what they built.

Bucket No. 3 is where Bank of America falls—and me, as the head of digital. We have a mature approach to features and functions. We’ve migrated away from: “Hey, it’s all about adoption.” Now we’re focused on the future of digital experience—pulling it all together and making it the primary way our customers think about us. Digital has become the centerpiece of the relationship with our customers. The future of interacting with Bank of America is that you download an app.

Insider Intelligence (II): If you were to write a job description for yourself in just a few sentences, what would you say?

DT: The key aspects that you’d be looking for are customer-driven. That’s the cornerstone to everything that we do: understanding the customer’s needs and aligning solutions to meet those needs.

II: Could you tell us a little bit about your professional background?

DT: I started my career in 1987 at Mass Financial Services [now known as MFS Investment Management], the oldest mutual fund company out there, and I was there for about five years learning the basics of financial services. Then, I was recruited over to Fidelity Investments, where I was the head of marketing for The Fidelity Advisor Funds. We did some pretty innovative things around data mining and using data. That won me a seat at the table around 1995-ish, when the president of Fidelity Advisor Funds became the head of Fidelity Retail and brought me and two other people with him.

For about six months [at Fidelity Retail], I did reconnaissance of the business lines, helping him get acclimated into his new role and put his strategy on the table. Then he said, “Okay, I’ll give you something new.”

So I took over fidelity.com. With a very small number of people there, we built it into a mainstay of how customers at Fidelity conducted business.

II: Was this really your start in digital channels?

DT: Yeah, in 1995. Prior to that, I was always using technology and database management. I have an affinity for that stuff, and so I jumped at the opportunity to take over fidelity.com.

We put a plan together that said, “Hey, you know what? We should go buy the URL, fidelity.com.” At the time, the URL was fid.-imb dot-com. We said, “We think this internet thing is going to be a big deal. It will be important for customers to know how to get to it, and it’ll be a lot easier to remember fidelity than fid.-imb dot-com.”

[Editor’s note: In 1999, “during the dot-com craze,” as he puts it, Tyrie moved to Putnam Investments. In 2010, he was offered the job of running Bank of America’s retirement business, then branded as Merrill Lynch; four years later, he went into the consumer side of Bank of America.]

After joining the consumer side at Bank of America, we consolidated all lines of consumer products into one organization, and I ran that. The thinking behind that consolidation was very advanced—I have to give tremendous credit to Dean Athanasia [president of consumer small business at Bank of America] and Brian Moynihan [chairman and CEO of Bank of America]. Back then, what they were thinking was, “We have to move away from pushing products to developing a lifelong relationship with our customers and being able to serve them solutions when and where it’s most appropriate.” After we successfully integrated the product lines, it was time for me to move on. I came over and became the head of digital, the financial network strategy, and some other things.

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II: What does success in digital look like for Bank of America?

DT: Success will be that, instead of having a mobile app, we’ll have 66 million mobile apps. The future of banking isn’t that we’ve developed a website or a mobile app where, if you want something, you go to different places to get that information.

The future of banking is that when you log in, you have your own application that’s creating itself based on you and your needs. It’s different from the one that’s created for me. That’s success in digital. Maybe that’s two or three years out.

Five years out from now, you won’t be going to a destination, a Bank of America app or www.bankofamerica.com. You won’t have to log in. It’s coming to you, built into your phone, and it notifies you. We’re getting there: We send 600 million alerts and notifications each month to our customers. In a few years, that will grow exponentially. You, as an end user, are going to depend on Bank of America to push you the information you want, when you want it, how you want it. In a nutshell, the future of banking is that the experience is built into your daily life.

II: What surprised you about your job?

DT: How fast consumer behavior is changing—and I think the pace will pick up even further.

I’ll give you an example. Pre-pandemic, if you’re in that second bucket of banks driving adoption, you’re looking at your customer base and saying, “Hey, how do I make them aware that I just created a new capability that’s going to make their lives easier, more convenient, and safer?”

Pre-pandemic, seniors and boomers were the hardest to engage because they already have their own habits. For example: Say I’m a small-business owner. I take my checks down to the local financial center and deposit them every week. I like seeing people there. That’s what I’ve been doing for 15 years, so I’m going to keep doing that.

The pandemic gave us some air time with those people. We could say, “Hey, wait. There’s actually another way to bank.” The seniors and the boomers were the fastest adopters of our digital capability during the pandemic.

II: We’ve seen that in industry data, as well.

DT: We haven’t seen them return to old habits yet; they’re still banking that way. When that door swung open, we went for it. We added 1 million new digitally active customers last year. In the first quarter of this year, we added another million.

II: Has that changed your strategic priorities, or have you made a shift?

DT: Not at all. The beauty of working at a place with leadership that was committed to digital 10 or 15 years ago is that when the pandemic hit, we didn’t have to build new things. We’d already built them. We opened our doors and showed people what a great experience they can have.

Now, we’re trying to create a world where every interaction with our customers is relevant and timely. We had 10 billion customer interactions for the consumer bank last year, 9 billion for digital.

II: When you look for inspiration for a Bank of America product or experience, where are you looking?

DT: I look for it everywhere, from anybody who plays in financial services—whether they’re a fintech, a large tech, competitor banks, small banks, or big banks. Somebody always has a good idea and a new angle.

But you’ve got to have a view well beyond banking. We’re talking about people’s lives. Bank of America banks one out of two Americans. If we do it the right way, we are an integral part of their daily lives. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think that’s happening already.