Published in Finance

Bank of America targets Grand Rapids for growth, digital branch

BY Sunday, November 26, 2017 03:52pm

GRAND RAPIDS — The sign in the window at 250 Monroe Avenue that reads “A new way to bank: coming soon” teases passersby of the new digital branch that Bank of America soon plans to open downtown.

In a broader sense, it also offers a sign of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America’s intentions for the Grand Rapids market as a place to invest for growth, especially with its commercial lines of business.

The bank’s strategy includes opening two new “advanced financial centers” — one yet this year on Monroe Avenue downtown and another in 2018 in a suburban location — and growing its entire book of business together through greater collaboration. Rather than operate business units separately from one another, the bank now takes a unified market approach to grow across all lines of business.

“We’ve become a simpler, better organized organization that has that growth mindset,” said Renee Tabben, Bank of America’s market president for the Grand Rapids area since April 2016. “We are very well organized to now serve the market.”

As part of the unified growth strategy, Bank of America recently relocated its business and middle-market banking teams and the Merrill Lynch wealth management subsidiary into offices on two floors of 250 Monroe Avenue, just upstairs from the future advanced financial center.

Bringing staff from positions other than retail branches into a single location allows greater collaboration across all service lines, from both Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, and accommodates the growth strategy for the market, said Scott DeMeester, senior vice president and market manager for commercial banking in West and Central Michigan.

“It helps us go to the market as one company,” DeMeester said.

Both DeMeester and Tabben say the bank is growing in Grand Rapids. One indicator DeMeester cites is a recent reception hosted for 18 new commercial clients of the business banking team, who work with companies with $5 million to $50 million in revenue. Of the clients at the event, all “had no relationship with us” a year ago, DeMeester said.

Today, they have each a “significant, meaningful and growing business relationship with Bank of America” and come from diverse economic sectors such as automotive, tool and die, agriculture, consumer products and franchise owners, said DeMeester, who joined Bank of America in Grand Rapids two years ago.

DeMeester pitches Bank of America as offering commercial clients a “holistic approach” with global capabilities and resources but with local decision-making on credit requests up to $50 million. Bank of America also offers robust technology platforms that “make it convenient and easy for clients to interact to us.”

On the retail side, the bank this year renovated a branch near RiverTown Crossings Mall in Grandville to become a “central hub” for serving retail customers, prospective borrowers for mortgages and home loans, and small businesses. Additional ATMs also are planned for deployment around the market.

In downtown, the “very techy” advanced financial center on Monroe Avenue will operate with a “virtual concierge” service for customers. Through videoconferencing, a greeter will assist customers or direct them to what they need. The center also will have several advanced ATMs for transactions.

The planned advanced centers are part of adapting to how customers bank in the digital age.

“We have to meet people where they’re at. We can’t continue to chase what banking used to be,” Tabben said. “Because the business model has changed, because the economics have changed, I don’t know that the bank branch that I remember growing up going to is going to be relevant or appropriate five or 10 years from now.”

The Monroe Avenue advanced financial center, Bank of America’s first in Michigan, should have a soft opening in December, she said. Bank of America is looking to open a second advanced center locally, either in the Cascade or Ada area, or along the busy 28th Street corridor.

Bank of America hopes the new-style bank office can lure new customers for an array of financial services.

“How do we get people to come in the door, engage with us, share with us what their financial needs are, and then connect them with the local person that can help them?” Tabben said. “If that financial center acts as the front door to have people come into our house, then we will have accomplished something.”

Although Bank of America is investing in the market to grow, “there will be no big flash,” she said. Bank of America plans to “grow in Grand Rapids and grow in a way that is new and different and in a way that can be profitable and sustainable,” Tabben said.

“We’re going to be very stealthy and subtle about it because we want to make sure we have the business to support the growth,” she said. 

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