Al Welch, a veteran Bank of America executive, moved to Las Vegas in 2007, just before the recession severely damaged every aspect of the local economy, including the housing, gaming and construction industries.
Bank of America recruited Welch for its management training program in 1989 as he was completing graduate school at Texas A&M.
“The program took approximately 18 months and I went straight into corporate and commercial banking after that,” Welch said. “Twenty-six years later, here I am, still with Bank of America and now its Las Vegas president and things are much more simplified and fast.”
Welch took over for George W. Smith, who retired last month after being with Bank of America since 1992.
He will continue to serve as a market executive for global commercial banking for the Desert Mountain region, a region that includes Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Previously, he was an executive with the company’s commercial gaming business.
“I spent the first 15 years of my career in Houston, followed by three years in Los Angeles managing our commercial banking group,” Welch said. “Then, in 2007, George Smith was looking for someone to manage the commercial banking business in Las Vegas. So my family moved here and I became a market executive for global commercial banking.”
Q: You were recently named market president in Las Vegas. How is your role changed from your predecessor, George W. Smith?
A: First and foremost, George W. Smith was an incredibly respected and successful market president. He led our market for more than 20 years and, since George’s leadership began, the scope of the market president role has certainly evolved.
Where a market president once focused on corporate social responsibility and community work, the role has evolved into integrating all lines of business and resources for the success of our local clients and community. To our customers, this equates to simplified interaction, greater accessibility and more ways to do business with us.
In addition, the market president is a face for the bank and carries the torch for conveying the way we deliver our services and how Bank of America invests and gives back to our local community.
Q: What is the role of market president in Las Vegas?
A: Most simply, my job as market president is to be a connector. As our long-time customers’ and clients’ needs evolve and as we reach new clients in Las Vegas, I’m responsible for helping bring everything together to ultimately deliver a fully integrated and seamless experience for the customer. It’s all about business integration and delivering our resources and expertise in an effective manner by really knowing the local market. So, here in Las Vegas, we have a thriving gaming and tourism market as well as new corporations arriving in our community with increased frequency — so I connect our best resources and expertise to these folks so they can grow and succeed here.
Q: CEO Brian Moynihan has directed all Bank of America market presidents to boost revenue. How do you make that happen in Las Vegas?
A: It’s all about taking care of our customers, making good loans and managing expenses. Last quarter, we saw the highest earnings in nearly a decade, reflecting our straightforward customer-focused operating model around responsible growth and doing more with the customers and clients that we serve. We call it “delivering one company” and it’s our way of simplifying banking and investing for them, making it easier for them to do business here. Here in Las Vegas, that looks like our fully integrating all our lines of business expertise and resources to take a holistic view of what a customer needs and making it as seamless as possible for them to access those resources — be it capital, equipment leasing, mergers and acquisitions support or a home loan — from our best advisers who work and live in the community.
Q: Bank of America has sold off branches, laid off staff and invested in technology. What impact is that having on your Las Vegas business?
A: We constantly monitor our customers’ preferences and adjust accordingly. Yes, self-service banking is a dominant force nowadays, but make no mistake retail branches are still an important part of our business strategy and are here to stay. The key is to simplify banking by providing a seamless experience regardless of the platform a customer chooses to do their banking — from brick-and-mortar to mobile apps. While the number of our physical locations has gone down some, our deposit share — currently at $11.2 billion — has grown year over year.
To give you some context of the scale of Bank of America in the technology space, our chief technology officer, Cathy Bessant, regularly describes Bank of America as a technology company that provides financial services. We have the most patents — 2,500 — in the financial services industry for creating new tech innovations for our 50 million-plus customers worldwide. We are also the industry leader in digital banking, with more than 5,500 new users each day. In 2016, we’re tripling the investment in our mobile banking platform, making it that much easier for customers to improve their financial lives.
Locally, our Summerlin campus supports digital banking customers throughout the globe. Each month, the Summerlin office fields more than 200,000 customer calls and, in 2016, will hire approximately 400 additional employees. Our platform of investing in technology has not only resulted in simplified banking and investing but real jobs here in Southern Nevada.
Regarding closing branches, in rural Nevada where our volume became challenging, in 2014 we made the decision to sell 10 branches to a regional community bank. The decision to sell these locations to a community bank, rather than closing them, was made to preserve as many jobs as possible and ensure these communities will continue to be served with convenient local branches. So, we view this as a way to save jobs and maintain a brick-and-mortar banking presence in these towns.
Q: How will Bank of America look to the average consumer in five years?
A: We don’t want to disclose too many secrets, but the meshing of our brick -and-mortar locations with mobile and digital resources will be the norm. We already have 3,800 employees in our financial centers that serve as digital ambassadors helping our customers daily try out mobile applications and other banking technology they may not be familiar with. Soon, you will even see technology bars, similar to the genius bars at Apple stores, inside some of our branches, and not too far away will be cardless ATMs with customers using near field communication technology on their smartphones. With 2,500 tech patents, you can imagine we are quite busy developing and testing the future of banking already.
Q: If you could change one thing about the banking business, what would it be?
A: Industrywide, I’d like to see an even larger effort to attract talent in to the banking space. Today, we are a simpler company to do business with, thanks in part to the ideas that our employees have generated firsthand. Simplifying banking and investing doesn’t happen by chance — it’s the result of the best and brightest putting their minds together and creating impactful solutions. As an industry, we need to prioritize not only recruiting top talent in banking, but the research and technology spaces as well.