One of the big drivers for the formation of Truist, the bank that is the resulting entity of the merger between BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc, was the need to modernize and create a better digital client experience, Truist’s Ken Meyer, CIO of the Channel Engineering & Innovation, told FinLedger.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Truist several months into its formation it actually only reinforced this exact notion, Meyer said.
Truist, which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, expects to incur total incremental operating expenses related to the merger of $1.8 billion through 2022, representing investments in its “systems, structure and technology related to the merger. It’s important to note this figure is broader than just technology spend; it does not represent IT expenses in 2021,” Meyer confirmed in an email.
Meyer’s division consists of client-facing channels which spans from everything digital to ATM, contact centers and branches. He’s also responsible for intelligent automation, internal APIs and open banking, enterprise CRM, deposits and core banking, debit and prepaid card, and LightStream.
Meyer spoke with FinLedger about how the pandemic affected Truist’s tech strategy, how the merger is going, his thoughts on cryptocurrencies and more.
This interview has been edited to read clearly and concisely.
FL: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect Truist’s technological initiatives as the bank was still dealing with the merger?
Meyer: In some cases, we made updates to heritage platforms that were all about things like payment relief — that could be an example — where we had to look and we had to realize, ‘Hey, we have to create a similar experience for both heritage SunTrust and BB&T clients, and figure out ways to look across those platforms.’
When you start doing that type of work, you start to look at architecture and you think: ‘Well, wait a minute, we’re about to do a merger. And we’re certainly not going to wait for all these core systems to be converted to start to introduce our clients to Truist from a digital perspective.’ Some of those early architecture decisions that we were looking at were some of the inspiration of what we now refer to as our ‘digital straddle.’ What our digital straddle allows us to do is build a new app and online experience for all of our clients, both SunTrust and BB&T, and introduce them to Truist digital.
FL: How do the business units within Truist work together and how do you specifically work across business units?
Meyer: My main business partner in this case is Brant Standridge, who’s our retail community bank leader, and Dontá Wilson who’s our chief digital experience officer. When you look at those businesses, we’re embedded directly with both of their teams to support their short, medium and long term strategies. In the case of a lot of the digital space, specifically that I work with — I’m referring back to the comment that I made earlier about how COVID accelerated our culture and the way we do business — we said from day one, that the days of business requirements coming in and throwing it over the wall to the IT teams, ultimately, were in the past.
We wanted to focus on an agile methodology that allows us to work quickly, accelerate when we need to and pivot when we need to. We looked at a lot of different methodologies. We thought this is a great opportunity to define our own Truist agile way of working.
What that means to us is that we have a triad approach. My part of the Triad represents the engineering components. But we also believe in the fact that clients matter, and clients should be at the center of everything we do. So you think about the need for research and design, and understanding what our clients want. The design component is another part of that triad. The last component of the triad is the product management side of the house. So, treating all these digital experiences as if they were products, grooming the backlog to make sure that we’re constantly working on the right things at the right time. And, also continuing to fill that backlog with the needs of our clients.
FL: What is Truist’s strategy with building technology in-house vs. working with fintechs and contracting to other providers in general?
Meyer: We want to focus on building things that can be differentiated. To the extent that there are commodities out there that we could consume, we’ll look to partner or even buy commodities, at the end of the day. What we want to focus on is where can we truly differentiate — where can we own a client experience and drive a differentiated client experience. Those are usually the areas where we’ll look to build. We have been, historically in the past, strong in the partnership realm. We’ve partnered with a lot of great companies, and will continue to partner with great companies. But it’s also important that we have the engineering talent in-house so when we choose to build, we can build and we can build it world class.
FL: Cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance are buzzwords that are making a lot of headlines recently, is Truist involved or getting involved with cryptocurrencies/decentralized finance at all?
Meyer: We like to keep our finger on the pulse of a lot of the trends that are out there in the industry, whether it be on the business side or on the technology front. In this case, that topic happens to live in both. As we look at things more in the innovation space, those are things that we continue to research and look at. We have folks across the bank that keep an eye on what’s going on industry-wide and how we may or may not choose to play in that arena.
But, at the moment, we don’t have any offerings or anything like that in the crypto space that we’re aggressively pursuing.
FL: What are notable trends in the digital banking space are you seeing?
Meyer: Nobody wants to have an app or an institution that is constantly dealing with upgrades and downtime and things like that. When we are going through and architecting our new solution, something that people want [is for you to be] available 24/7. A lot of the architecture that we’ve built into our new platform will allow for that. You think about leveraging the power of the cloud and other things for multi-region deployments. That way, you don’t have to take down the app for upgrades and things that are important.
When you think about just experience itself, a lot of our clients want simplicity. They want things to be very clear, you don’t need an instruction manual to work on your app. I think other influences and experiences that our clients have had also have driven broader experiences and expectations that they have when working with anything. When you look at financial services apps, they need to be more streamlined, simple, but also intelligent.
You think about the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning — just paying your bill and seeing your balances is one thing. But, if we’re able to actually provide insight into our client’s financial lives, and lead them to becoming more financially fit, stable and educated, where we can provide insights into what’s going on for them, and actually getting them to take action. I think that’s the type of relationship and that’s the type of trust that our clients continue to look for when it comes to banking with us.