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Bank of America®: Innovation, Strategic Partnerships, and Personalization Demonstrate Value to Rewards Program Members Untitled Episode

July 17, 2023 Loyalty360
Bank of America®: Innovation, Strategic Partnerships, and Personalization Demonstrate Value to Rewards Program Members Untitled Episode
Leaders in Customer Loyalty, Powered by Loyalty360
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Leaders in Customer Loyalty, Powered by Loyalty360
Bank of America®: Innovation, Strategic Partnerships, and Personalization Demonstrate Value to Rewards Program Members Untitled Episode
Jul 17, 2023
Loyalty360

Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, spoke with John Sellers, Head of Rewards at Bank of America, about the success of the Preferred Rewards program, innovating when leveraging technology, and bringing value to employees in a culture of inclusion.   

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, spoke with John Sellers, Head of Rewards at Bank of America, about the success of the Preferred Rewards program, innovating when leveraging technology, and bringing value to employees in a culture of inclusion.   

Mark Johnson:

Good afternoon, good morning. This is Mark Johnson from Loyalty. I hope everyone's happy, safe and well. I want to welcome you back to another edition of our Leaders in Customer Loyalty series. In this series, we have the privilege of speaking with you in brands about what you're seeing and hearing on the front lines of customer channel and brand loyalty. Today we have the pleasure of speaking with John Sellers. He's the head of rewards at Bank of America. John, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

John Sellers:

Thanks, Mark. Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

Mark Johnson:

Absolutely. Let's start these on a personal level. I get to know the person we were speaking with. I've spoken with you a number of times, but I would love to get a refresher on you, your background a little bit, maybe pre-Bank of America and what do you do at Bank of America. What's your role?

John Sellers:

Sure, sure. Well, I've been at Bank of America for a long time. I'm not going to tell you how many years, but let's put it over half my life. Let's put it that way. Before Bank of America, I went to the University of Delaware. I also went to Penn State for my MBA. At Bank of America, I would really put my career into two chunks. The first chunk I was in risk strategy. I used to manage a team of folks analytical folks that drove all the strategies around, mainly credit card line up, line down, authorizations, those type of things. Then the second half of my career has really been in product. I've worked in credit card, auto lending, investments, et cetera. For the last eight or nine years I've really focused on rewards. On the personal side, I am now, as of this year, an empty nester. I have three kids. One actually has a job, he's graduated. He's working in Manhattan. Then I have two that are in college, one at Miami of Ohio and one at St. Andrews in Scotland.

Mark Johnson:

That's great. Miami of Ohio, great school, obviously, St. Andrews as well. Is there something you enjoy now that you're an empty nester, a fun fact or a passion you may have?

John Sellers:

No, I spend more time at the beach. Now I'm not on the lacrosse field or whatever field. More time at the beach, which means more tennis and more concerts. I just saw Darius Rucker.

Mark Johnson:

Darius Rucker is good.

John Sellers:

A couple of days ago. Great entertainer.

Mark Johnson:

That's good, Jason Aldean, in your plans for the summer.

John Sellers:

I wish, I wish he's a good guy.

Mark Johnson:

Yeah, big fan. So, Bank of America everyone's familiar with the brand, iconic Brand. Can you give us a brief history of Bank of America, what you guys do and how you do it?

John Sellers:

Yeah Well, the company's been around for a long time. It started over 240 years ago. Since then, we've come together through many different sources to become what we are today. We're one of the world's leading financial institutions. We have over 70 million clients who have over 3.2 trillion in assets. We serve consumers, small businesses, middle market businesses, large corporations, as well as governments.

Mark Johnson:

Excellent. Okay, when you look at your loyalty program very successful, award-winning loyalty program, the Bank of America preferred awards. How does the program work? How do members engage with it? What are the benefits of the program?

John Sellers:

Yeah Well, it's an award-winning program that's really built around our clients. It all came out of client research where clients told us they wanted to be rewarded for their everyday banking, but they also wanted us to recognize their banking and investing businesses. So all the different products, fee waivers, et cetera, discounts off investments very simple requirements you have to have a Bank of America checking account and you have to at least have $20,000 in assets with us that can be across your banking Bank of America, banking products, Merrill Lynch or private bank. We have five tiers in the program Start at $20,000, go all the way up to $10 million. So we continue to incentivize clients to bring more business to us and, as they do, they get rewarded more and more for doing that.

John Sellers:

You know, from a sort of the way we manage the program is you know, it's easy to enroll.

John Sellers:

We make it really easy to enroll, whether it's through our digital sources, mobile or online banking, through our financial centers, through our contact centers, et cetera. We also continue to up to your clients. You know, every month, as their assets grow, we move them up so they get better and better benefits, you know, and we have a full life cycle of engagement around the program. So not only does it start with sort of your you know as you become eligible to enroll, but we, you know as we onboard you as you, you know as you become a member and you know as you log into our digital sources. We're recognizing your membership. We continue to give you communication quarterly, we continue to update and innovate the program around the benefits that we offer you and you know our members just have really responded well to it. Right, we've had a huge success with the program. It's grown from, you know, a membership and asset perspective roughly at a KGIRV around 20% year over year, and we continue to be recognized from an industry perspective too.

Mark Johnson:

So Absolutely so. When you look at the, you know program partnerships are a big part of your program, big part of a number of programs right now for customer loyalty. It's a way to have dual benefits to two more brands. You know, when you look at partnerships they can either work very well or they can be somewhat challenged or struggle, depending on how they're constructed. You know how has Bank of America traditionally looked at partnerships and you know what works in a partnership from your perspective.

John Sellers:

Yeah, well, I think you know, historically we've looked at, we've approached partnerships in the reward space from more of an aggregator perspective.

John Sellers:

So we've done a lot of partnerships with aggregators around card link offers and those have worked well because, quite frankly, becoming a sort of a strategic partner with Bank of America it's a pretty rigorous process. You know there's lots involved in terms of compliance and GIS security requirements etc. So that's sort of has led us to that aggregator route. But recently I think we're much more open to more strategic one-on-one types of partnerships. We recently had a partnership with Grubhub that's out there where we're offering members and clients free delivery service for up to a year. We recently launched experiential rewards for our high net worth and ultra high net worth clients in our diamond and diamond honors tiers at a million dollars and ten million dollars in assets and those have brought on some new partnerships with some very, very premium brands and bestowed travel agencies. So I think you know, to answer your question, we're very open to different types of partnerships and I think the extent of the partnership would really determine which is the proper model, for the best model for us to pursue.

Mark Johnson:

Okay, another area. It's very important to brands and I think you guys do an amazing job employee engagement, employee loyalty. You guys Win awards in that as well. I know you won an award last year and you did a lot to promote internally in the call centers into talking about how employees are our focus. So when you look at emotional loyalty, our social employee Loyalty, employee engagement, you know how do you put that first, how do you train employees or engage them a little differently and how do you see the impacts going forward.

John Sellers:

Yeah, yeah, great question. Certainly it helps any loyalty program if your employees are on the bus, right, and they understand the program and they can, you know, speak, you know, in an articulate way to your customers about it. I actually used to manage our employee financial services, right, so that was part of my responsibilities and what we did was we took the core value prop for employees and we made that preferred rewards. So what we do is, as an employee of Bank of America, as long as you have a checking account, we'll waive the $50,000 asset requirement to give you platinum benefits, right, so you'll get a 50% card bonus. Who get auto discounts, mortgage discounts, home equity discounts, fee waivers, etc. And Actually 97% of our eligible employees are enrolled in the program. Yeah, right, so that makes a huge difference.

John Sellers:

When you know our clients are interacting with clients face-to-face in the financial center, over the phone or what have you, through chat, etc. They can really relate to the program. They can, they understand the benefits because they're getting the benefits themselves. So that, you know, has been one of One of the you know the secrets to our success, right, and we continue to train on the program as well, of course, you know we have all the trainings that you would imagine Around the program, especially for our frontline associates, whether it's web-based trainings or huddles and things like that. But we're also continue to innovate around the training and making making it fresh for our associates. So we're doing things like I coach, which is really a Conversation simulator that people can practice on. We're also doing virtual reality right, where you can actually practice Client interactions right with the goggles on and doing all that kind of stuff. We're certain the first or second inning of that stuff, but that's really sort of cool stuff and I think our employees really get a lot out of it.

Mark Johnson:

Okay your culture organizations. Culture Is very important and I know a number of people that work for you or with you or for you, should I say they think you do an amazing job and building that culture right. The passion you have, not only for the brand, the program but the employees, is quite exemplary. You know how do you build the culture and what does the culture mean to your customer experience and customer loyalty efforts.

John Sellers:

Yeah well, our culture definitely Shapes our loyalty efforts, right.

John Sellers:

I mean, the purpose of Bank of America is really to make the financial lives our clients financial lives, our clients financial lives, better through responsible growth.

John Sellers:

And you know we have a culture of innovation when relationships matter, right. So you know, back to aligning to prefer rewards you know we recognize clients relationships, right, we drive value to our members through all the rewards that we give them and we remind them of those value and we continue to innovate, right, so that, and and quite quite frankly, the innovation I think is is the funnest thing about our culture, right, working, developing, you know, smart videos, or you know, working with AI technology and Erica to sort of fast forward our agenda. You know, working in the digital environment, creating a my rewards hub, all those kind of things really, you know, aligned to that innovative culture. And then I think we also, bank of America, stands for a culture of inclusion, right, we care about all employees as well as we care about all clients and all members, and you'll see that shaping, you know, the direction of our program even further in the coming years.

Mark Johnson:

Okay, excellent. Looking forward to hearing more on that. Personalization is another area that Bank of America excels, win awards in the personalization parts of customer loyalty. You have a unique process where you customize videos very important. You know how have you been able to, you know, capitalize on personalization in your branding and in your approach. You know how are you using to enhance some of the communication strategies that you have.

John Sellers:

Yeah, yeah. Well, it's all. You know. Personalization is all about the client, but it's also about the results, right. We want it from a client perspective, we want their experience to be relevant, we want it to be engaging, we want it to be satisfying For the result perspective. We see that when we do that, we make it more personalized, we get better performance right, higher engagement rates, higher sales rates, etc. And I would say the customers expect it, right. You know, they want to know that the brands are listening to them. They want to know that the brands understand them. They want us to pay attention to their specifics, specific needs and wants, right. So I think personalization all fits into that right.

John Sellers:

And, as you mentioned, you know we do a lot of things. We do hyper-personalized videos, we do personalized dashboards, we do personalized quarterly emails, we do a bunch of new tricks. You know we have a ton of triggers. You know, based upon the information that we know about Mark Johnson, we'll tee up, hopefully, the appropriate benefit. One of the triggers we're working on right now is, you know, if Mark is a member of our program and we see he's purchased you know, international travel he's flying abroad Then we're going to tee up our FX currency benefit for him, to let him know that he can get up to a 2% discount on foreign currency and we'll deliver it and ship it free to his home before he leaves.

Mark Johnson:

That's great. Okay, good, that's a great thing to have. I would like to have that last week before my kids went to Europe. That have been more timely. But yeah, I'm just kidding, that's great. So when you look at customer loyalty, the data can be very impactful if it's leverage right, especially when you talk about personalization, some of your efforts. But in the time of economic uncertainty strong job growth right now inflation is still high come down a little bit. But you know how can customer loyalty in the programs be a hedge against that uncertainty? How do you think your program steps up to that challenge?

John Sellers:

Yeah, well, I don't think I've ever met somebody who doesn't like to save money, right. So you know, and I think that's I really love this about our program it really does offer clients meaningful value, right. And the best thing is we can measure that value and we can make clients aware of that value, right? So we're giving away, as a program, over $4 billion in rewards value annually, and that equates to about $550 per member, and there are members out there Mark making tens of thousands of dollars or getting rewards value in the tens of thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars. So, you know, I think that's that's how I think of it as sort of a hedge against the uncertainty. People want to save money. This is a really good value. So it, you know, behooves them to join the program. It, you know, behooves them to to join us, be a member, do more business with Bank of America, because the more they do, the more they'll save.

Mark Johnson:

Excellent when you look at your customers different, different tiers, different segments, different interests but everyone changed. Going into COVID changed, going out of COVID, expectations are changing. How do you think your customers have changed, have evolved, and you know how are you addressing that as an organization at Bank of America.

John Sellers:

Yeah, well, you know, I think it's pretty, pretty commonplace in the industry and the marketplace. You know folks stayed at home during COVID. People were more digitally active. We had historically experienced most of our program enrollments in the financial center channel right, that changed during COVID and the digital channels, whether it was mobile or online banking, were our highest enrollment channels and I think you know our digital engagement soared right. So we, over 80% of our members, are digitally engaged with us right on a regular basis. So as we've come out of COVID, you know some of those numbers have backed down a little bit, meaning, you know, we're seeing more people walking into the financial centers, more traffic, we're seeing more spend, you know, especially on the travel front. But I think that digital engagement, you know we sort of fast forwarded a little bit. You know COVID helped fast forward our clients and we're seeing that digital engagement continue to be high.

Mark Johnson:

Okay.

John Sellers:

Right. So that's a good thing right. And you know we pride ourselves on our digital experience, our sort of high tech, high touch strategy, and you know our app and digital experience is really award winning in the industry. And I think we do a lot of focus in that experience around rewards whether it's my rewards, one single destination for everything, rewards related the way we greet you, the way we tee up the opportunities with rewards in our digital experience. So I think that's a benefit for our program and a benefit for our members as well.

Mark Johnson:

Okay, when you look at other programs, that customer loyalty programs or even just drive unique customer loyalty to you, you know, are there some brands that you think do a good job, that you're loyal to and you know what do you like about their offerings. Why are you loyal?

John Sellers:

Well, first, there's a ton of brands out there. I try to take a little bit from everybody, but if I had to sort of boil it down to two Marriott and Amazon, I think, are two that I, you know, respect a lot from the fact that they've been able to sort of. They've developed this simplified, unified sort of naming structure right under Bonvoy and Prime. They brought a lot under that and it's really sort of, you know, they're not a fragmented model, so I take a lot of inspiration from that. I also think they have a diverse both of them have a diverse set of chassis, or a diverse chassis with a lot of different benefits, and really their rewards are almost available to all right. So, as I think about the direction that we went ahead, that's very compelling and I like that inclusive, streamlined model that both of them have.

Mark Johnson:

Okay, excellent Two. You know venerable programs for sure, kind of some of the stall works in the industry, so it's great to hear that. And then the last question, somewhat self-serving you know, what can Loyalty 360 do to help you and your team and their customer loyalty journey?

John Sellers:

Yeah, I think, well, one is just you know inspiration, right, I think you know it's inspiring, sort of, you know, having a form to connect with other. You know loyalty professionals throughout the, throughout the marketplace, and see what others are doing and learn from others and figure out you know how you know something in a completely different industry might make sense in the financial industry. So I think you know that inspiration and sort of learning best demonstrated practices and then just you know, building our network, making us, you know, developing the connections in the, in the loyalty industry that help us further our business. You know you guys do a great job in in terms of your, your conferences and your numerous sort of digital forums and meeting invites, et cetera, around various topics that you know make it interesting and something you know, there's always something to learn out there, right? So I appreciate that.

Mark Johnson:

I appreciate that feedback as well and thank you, Ben, to find that you find value and I appreciate all of you to see all your participation.

Mark Johnson:

Okay, so thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today, john. It's always great to catch up and hear about a little more about you. But to the program and how you're focusing on adding value to the program and also the passion you have for not only the brand but the employees and just the whole process. It kind of you exude confidence and passion, which is you don't always have in some of these interviews, but with you it's always front and center. It's always great to hear.

John Sellers:

I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

Mark Johnson:

Absolutely, and thank you everyone for taking the time to listen today. Make sure you join us back for another edition of our Leaders in Customer Loyalty Series soon. Have a wonderful day.

Intro
Tell us about you
History of Bank of America
Bank of America's loyalty program
How does Bank of America approach partnerships
Employee Engagement
Organizational Culture Importance
Personalization
Economic Uncertainty
How customers are changing from COVID
What loyalty programs do you admire
What can Loyalty360 do for you