The connected economy runs on a mostly invisible ocean of technologies to deliver new experiences, and it all relies on one foundational concept: integration.
That’s the opinion of Galen Robbins, managing director and head of global merchant acquiring sales at Bank of America. Speaking with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster for the “One Thing” series, Robbins covered a lot of ground, but the conversation was underpinned by that unifying idea.
“When you ask me about that one thing, you’ve got to be able to pick and choose how you integrate to reduce friction, to be more efficient for clients,” he said, “and also to protect them on the fraud side and transaction monitoring. That’s why I think integration is so important.”
Using healthcare to make the point, Robbins pointed to BofA’s acquisition of AxiaMed in 2021 as an exemplar of meaningful digital integration, creating financial outcomes that benefit an entire ecosystem.
He said: “The healthcare space is driving far more efficiency, I think, than most other industries, in how they’re managing their patient, payer and provider ecosystems. When you think about those three parties, how do you integrate payments within that? Why is that important to healthcare?”
Combine that with the dominance of mobile — another vital set of integrations — and it becomes clear where interoperability is driving a new set of consumer expectations.
“We’re just scratching the surface in the space,” he said. “The way I personally manage my healthcare is through a mobile device. I make my payment on my mobile device, and I can select a bunch of different options. Think about that longer term. Can I start to shop for healthcare on my mobile device within the hospital or healthcare ecosystem?”
It’s one example among many showing that integration is the central nervous system of how the connected economy, in all its manifestations, is scaling and evolving.
The Data Component
If integration is the one thing that digital transformation rests on, it’s powered by reams of data that come with separate but related issues around identity and security.
Noting that 76% of Bank of America’s clients are digitally active, and that the use of its mobile app for the CashPro banking platform is up 41% year over year as of September, Robbins chalked it up to “a better comfort level that digital is secure, is repeatable, is scalable — and what we sometimes fail to think about — has great reporting, information and great data behind those transactions that a client can use.”
On that count, first-party data is the gold that companies need to mine to achieve deeper relationships in B2C or B2B. “They can use it in a digital way to frame up different markets, different consumer behaviors, different geographies, time of purchase,” he said.
“There are so many ways they can use this data that I think is far different and greater than it was in [in the past] to attract more customers and to attract more sales. It is phenomenal, the quest of our clients for data and how they can use that to monetize their own businesses,” Robbins added.
Having gotten past the slings and arrows of the past three years, thoughts are advancing to what is now possible with the data-driven digital solutions that are increasingly common.
“If you think of the last three years, it was … how do I make things easier? How do I survive?” he said. “Digital is important as it helps our clients do just that. We’ve got that down, and that’s not going away because I’ve already realized efficiencies, I’ve already realized cost savings, I feel my transaction is secure. So now, what can I do more of? I go back to the word integration.”
Wise Counsel for CFOs
Recalling a recent meeting with a large banking client, Robbins said their first question dealt, unsurprisingly, with data. The second hinged on digital and data to create new efficiencies.
“It used to be all or nothing. Grow and cut expenses,” he said. “Now it’s a really healthy conversation with clients about how, based on what I’ve done in the last three years, what can I do next to become more efficient, reduce costs, improve client experience, reduce friction, etc.?”
That encompasses changes to the financial supply chain in the wake of COVID-19, and how companies are moving from one systemic shock to the next with more confidence.
Robbins said: “The supply chain space was heavily impacted by the pandemic, and now you’re on the other side. How do you rationalize that? How do you take out cost? How do you make sure that your entire financial supply chain is efficient and as frictionless as possible? We can talk about products and everything else, but that’s really what they have to think about.”
That leads to the counsel Robbins gives to the CFOs he interacts with on a regular basis. It comes down to old proven wisdom combined with takeaways from twin crises since 2020.
“My advice is that you need to deliver multiple options that a client can choose to continue to do business with you,” he said. “Sometimes we get in sort of a myopic view and say that what is good for us is good for our clients or customers, for their customers. What we need to do is to provide our clients with the greatest amount of choice so they can interact with us, they can buy from us, and we can develop a relationship together.”