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In Focus
NAME:Holly O'Neill
COMPANY:Bank of America
POSITION:President, Retail Banking
As Bank of America’s President of Retail Banking, Holly O'Neill wants to ensure every one of its 34 million retail clients are as financially fit as possible.

When Holly O’Neill tells her kids about her early days at Bank of America, as a graduate fresh out of a Bachelor of Science in Business from the University of New Hampshire in 1996, there’s one detail in particular they always find amusing: how she found the job vacancy.

“I actually answered a newspaper ad and my kids, they kind of chuckle at that,” she tells The CEO Magazine. “They’re like, ‘What are you talking about?’”

In O’Neill’s latest video series, ‘Gamechangers with Holly O’Neill’, she interviews Charlotte Jones, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer, Dallas Cowboys. The series features industry leaders who are pushing the envelope to deliver exceptional consumer experiences – with key takeaways to deliver better for Bank of America clients.

The advert in question was for a six-month credit analyst training program, which placed her in the corporate and investment bank where she went on to spend a decade, finishing her time there as COO. She then transitioned into a more strategic role in Bank of America Private Bank as COO, as well as serving as COO for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Private Banking and Investment Group.

Seven years ago, O’Neill made what she calls “a dramatic pivot” into consumer banking as President of Retail Banking, one of Bank of America’s eight lines of business. She also serves as Bank of America’s Chief Client Care Officer.

“I wanted to work in a business at scale and make a difference.”

“I made it because I was super interested in what the consumer business was doing in the way of digital transformation with, at the time, around 66 million clients,” she explains. Today, the figure is closer to 69 million.

“I wanted to work in a business at scale and make a difference,” she says.

Make a difference she has – and continues to do. Among the recognition she has received is being named as one of American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking in 2023. Other accolades include the Forbes 50 Over 50 list and Barron’s 100 Most Influential Women in US Finance in 2023 and 2024.

At the Front Door

Of all Bank of America’s lines of business, retail banking is, as O’Neill describes it, the front door into the company. “It’s often where people start their financial journey,” she says.

Anchored around three key points, her vision for the division is very simple. “It’s to provide a foundation of financial health to all of our clients, no matter where they are; it’s also to give them a great experience. And finally, it’s continuing on our digital transformation journey,” she says.

However, she knows there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to their client base. “We have 34 million retail clients and I often say that there are 34 million unique client journeys,” she explains.

“We have 34 million retail clients and I often say that there are 34 million unique client journeys.”

That means ensuring every single one of them has access to everything they want– and how they want, whether that’s in person, in a bank or digitally. “We need to be able to deliver in multiple channels because every client is unique in how they want to interact with us,” she continues.

Much of the way O’Neill and her team can achieve this is via a focus on operational excellence that views the entire customer journey through a client lens, rather than an internal lens. “It’s really about putting yourself in the shoes of the client and delivering a simple and easy experience for them,” she says.

In Good Health

At the core of Bank of America’s retail banking strategy is financial health: so strong is its focus that the bank has been the first financial institution to be certified outstanding by rating agency JD Power for customer satisfaction with financial health support among banks and credit card issuers.

“Delivering advice, giving them the tools, client experience; it is a big job,” she says. “But it is really important for us that, every time our clients interact with us, they feel that we’re invested and we’ve delivered a great experience.”

Especially as financial health becomes a concept people are increasingly in tune with.

“Our clients are taking more advantage of our spending and budgeting tools as well as products like Life Plan and Erica,” she continues, referencing Bank of America’s digital goal setting and virtual financial assistant tools.

Beyond its suite of products, O’Neill says partnerships with charities and nonprofits in this space are key, particularly when it comes to its community banking with low and moderate-income (LMI) clients. Working with strategic partners such as Operation HOPE allows the bank to provide in-person financial health coaching in the LMI community.

“We are completely committed to taking care of our clients where it matters to them most.”

“Operation HOPE comes into our financial centers so that they can engage directly with our clients, should our clients desire,” she explains.

“We’ve had tremendous success thus far. Clients who engaged in our Operation HOPE partnership, on average, improved their credit scores by 15 points, increased their savings by US$1,140 and reduced their debt by US$1,280.”

It’s all part of the plan to deliver a comprehensive and seamless experience that gives clients the tools they need to achieve their financial health goals. “We do that in a way that is very client-focused and gives them access to our specialists and our capabilities 24/7,” she says.

But it’s done in a high-tech and high-touch manner. “So, if our clients want to engage with us digitally, we have great digital tools,” she says. “If they want to work with one of our specialists, they have access to tens of thousands of specialists.

“Our brand is all about our clients and the communities where we operate and, from a retail banking perspective, we are completely committed to taking care of our clients where it matters to them most.”

AI Opportunity

AI is, O’Neill says, a “tremendous opportunity” for both the bank and its clients.

“Our strategy has been and will continue to be to deliver high-tech and high-touch in both our financial centers and the people that deliver in the local markets every day.

“So I see AI very much as a complement to that: it makes our teams better, it makes our teams faster and can provide our clients with really good information and that is ultimately our goal,” she says.

“I don’t look at AI as a replacement for our people.”

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