NEW YORK (Reuters) -Bank of America Corp is anticipating a strong performance in its retail business during the second quarter, thanks to resilient consumer demand, according to Holly O’Neill, the bank’s president of retail banking. Speaking at a Reuters Newsmaker event, O’Neill expressed confidence in the health of the consumer, noting that savings and account balances remain above pre-pandemic levels.
This financial stability positions consumers well, providing a cushion in the event of a mild recession in the latter part of the year. The growth prospects for the second quarter are further enhanced by higher-than-expected consumer spending in April, although consumer confidence dipped in May due to concerns about the labor market. Despite this slight decline, households still expressed intentions to make significant purchases, including motor vehicles and other major items, over the next six months.
Bank of America, the second-largest lender in the U.S., is focused on growing through its existing businesses and client relationships instead of making acquisitions, O’Neill said. Rival JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYSE:JPM) , the nation’s largest lender, bought First Republic Bank (OTC:FRCB) after it was seized by authorities earlier this month.
“We will certainly look at opportunities, but our focus again, is on organic growth,” O’Neill said. “I don’t think we feel undue competitive pressure.”
Consumer spending on Bank of America cards fell 1.2 percent in April compared with a year earlier, the first year-on-year decline since February 2021, its data showed. Yet the appetite for credit cards, auto loans and mortgages is still holding up, she said.
Meanwhile, even though delinquencies are near historically low levels, more customers are starting to fall behind on their payments, a trend that O’Neill expects to continue.
“We are seeing those numbers come back to closer to pre-pandemic, but that’s what you would expect in this type of environment,” she said.
In a wide-ranging interview, O’Neill discussed the bank’s use of artificial intelligence to power its virtual assistant, Erica.
“There are a whole host of uses,” O’Neill said, such as using Erica and generative AI to help bank employees look up information, policies and procedures.
The executive, a 27-year veteran of the company, also spoke about leadership in an industry that has historically lacked diversity.
“For women, in particular, I really try to focus on confidence and risk-taking,” she said. The biggest shot O’Neill took in her career was moving to the consumer bank after serving as chief operating officer of the private-banking division.
“I learned a tremendous amount, but that was probably the biggest risk — I went from managing 100 people to 12,000 people overnight and I was given the opportunity and I closed my eyes a little bit and jumped, and it was really the best move I made.”