July 25, 2013
By Kenneth Miller
Assistant Managing Editor
Bank of America, one of the world’s leading financial institutions, has entrusted its Western Region to Senior Vice President Barry Simmons who is pointing the entity in the right direction.
Simmons’ position allows him to make key decisions, some having improved financial literacy in the Black community.
“We bring customers into a conference room and we just talk about their experiences, real life experiences that they’ve had with Bank of America, whether it is a banking center specifically or any other experiences,” Simmons explained.
In his primary role Simmons helps improve the lives of others within the community by providing them with critical financial information that enables them to make decisions on retirement home ownership, small business, college, checking or savings for themselves or family.
“Everyone I touch, I want to make their lives better, financially or otherwise. I don’t want to be just Barry Simmons of Bank of America, but Barry Simmons who left an imprint on the communities he served.”
It is that personal touch that has dramatically increased BOA brand awareness in the Black community and other neighborhoods in the Western Region that Simmons serves, and explains banking in a language they can relate to and understand.
“Customers are not shy and I love it. They will tell you exactly what is on their minds and they will tell you the truth. We’ve had customers come in and say, ‘I love your banking center etc., but the company is just too big and they can’t help me with my complex needs.’”
“And that’s the barrier I’m trying to break down. Those are the obstacles that I’m trying to say, ‘yes we can.’ We just need to make sure our associates are empowered to escalate that to the right people.”
Simmons started at telesales, outbound calls and collections, to customer service and grave-yard shifts, but the experience taught him to understand common people and that experience was instrumental in landing him the position of senior vice president at B of A.
“That helped me become a better leader and I was able to adapt and realize that diversity is key in leadership. It makes you a stronger leader. And, at the end of the day it’s all about making your people better, being able to have resources, answering questions for your people, providing the connections for people so they can improve, then your team is going to get that much better overall…”
As a leader, Simmons makes sure that he and his team’s main focus is the B of A customer. He’s always thinking, he says, of how they can impact each one and do a better job. The task can be difficult sometimes since it’s such a large corporation, he says, it can feel like an institution, especially now when banking has pretty much gone the way of automation and digitization.
Bank of America’s focus is to stay connected with its customers and Simmons wants to think about every customer interaction, how they can connect better with our community, and how they can create awareness in our community about the variety of offerings at Bank of America.
“It feels like a large corporation that doesn’t have a local or personal feel, but I am working to improve that,” Simmons explained.
Always concerned about what customers think, Simmons is interested in feedback.
His innovative approach to an automated dominated industry that frequently lacks any personal connection, has been instrumental in BOA increasing its share of customers in the minority community.
“We’re focusing on a non biased financial education that can benefit anyone. So, this isn’t a product sell or anything,” he said.
Simmons has created that sense of connectivity with the community where everybody realizes that they can accomplish all their financial dreams.
Bank of America products are important, but Simmons feels it’s more about the customer. “It’s about the customer being able to fulfill any of their financial dreams whether it’s buying a house or sending your child to school or getting that first car for your first job. We want to be a part of that in any way we can…..…”
A husband and father of twin boys, Simmons’ career began 17 years ago with Legacy MBNA, a credit card company, in its management development program. During his time there he was allowed to rotate through all of the entry-level positions.
His experience at MBNA was a great character building exercise and, more importantly, it was a great opportunity to understand what it would take to lead people - not leading from an authority position but really making an emotional connection.
A customer walking into one of Bank of America’s banking centers or an individual dealing with one of their commercial centers is more than just a customer at Bank of America.
Besides making life better for the bank’s customer, Simmons says BOA is focusing on financially educating the surrounding communities.
“We’ve actually partnered with the Con Academy, which is a leading educational non-profit and we have a new website in partnership with the Con Academy called www.bettermoneyhabits.com. We encourage our consumers, non customers and customers alike to visit this site because they have educational videos from anything like how to build savings, how to manage credit, how to focus on a household, simple mathematics, which we think are going to be a tremendous value to all consumers.
“The next thing we’re going to do is focus on some financial seminars in our banking centers. So, we’re hosting financial seminars in banking centers after hours where we bring in consumers where we can talk about and learn about all type of money management activity and how to help simplify your finances. And we partnered with non profit recently, the National Foundation of Credit Counseling to really help us to facilitate those.
“Because when you think about the educational environment in general we know that is a major need. And, it is a specialty of ours. It’s our corporate responsibility to give back and really invest in financial education. We surveyed consumers and about 40 percent said they would rate their financial acumen at a C, D or F. We’ve got to make sure that we’re focused on delivering that knowledge to the community.”
“We want customers from the time they get their first savings account, to their first job, to retirement… the life cycle. That’s the kind of relationship we want,” Simmons said.
“I want people to remember me as a leader who really cared about his people and who was really invested in their development,” said Simmons.
Those are the qualities OUR community appreciates, and that makes Barry Simmons special. He has created and built a relationship bonded with trust and a personal touch that you can only find at Bank of America.