• Bank of America’s Cathy Bessant highlighted the importance of 5G mobile broadband and 3D printing.
  • Fellow BofA tech exec David Reilly also spoke to the importance of 5G for edge cloud computing.
  • The comments were made at a Bank of America summit on digital banking on Monday.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Much of the focus across Wall Street these days is on the potential for distributed-ledger technology (DLT) to reshape markets and the way money moves.

But not everyone is as sold on where the tech can be used in finance. 

Speaking at a Bank of America virtual roundtable on Monday on the future of

digital banking
, Cathy Bessant, Bank of America’s chief operations and technology officer, shared her thoughts on the potential for DLT.

When asked by a moderator what cutting-edge tech she is excited about, Bessant’s first response was to say what isn’t as intriguing to her. 

Bessant said that while DLT, which underpins digital currencies and exchanges, is “a new and exciting technology,” the bank has yet to find a “solid use case” for it in financial services. 

Instead, Bessant has her eyes set on two other tech trends: 5G and 3D printing.

Execution of 5G will ‘dramatically change our ability’

Bessant said that she is keenly assessing the impact that 5G — the latest generation of mobile broadband — will have on Bank of America and its customers.

Wireless service providers say 5G tech, which has now been rolled out in certain areas nationwide depending on the mobile provider, offers both quicker speeds and broader connectivity.   

“It’s not new, but the execution of it at scale in the United States will be new. 5G is extremely, extremely important,” Bessant said, who added that 5G “execution, globally and of course in the US, really will dramatically change our ability.”

Bank of America, like nearly every other financial institution even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, has dove headfirst into digital and mobile banking in recent years. 

As of the first quarter of 2021, Bank of America counts more than 40 million active digital consumer-banking users, the bank said. Just shy of half of all its consumer-banking sales are done digitally. 

The bank’s mobile penetration also extends beyond retail channels. For Merrill Lynch, the bank’s wealth management and advisory division, roughly 80{98cae0078f524eff3ab8ec32cf55b261677ef6c8a6ed6e94d92a4234b93f46b6} of households now use an online or mobile tool, while 74{98cae0078f524eff3ab8ec32cf55b261677ef6c8a6ed6e94d92a4234b93f46b6} of Bank of America’s institutional customers (across commercial, corporate, and business banking) are digitally active as well. 

Bessant said at the summit that 5G could address a wide range of issues, from the bandwidth challenges that come from working from home to software that requires large data usage to run.

Her comments were echoed by fellow Bank of America tech executive David Reilly, head of global banking and markets, enterprise risk and finance technology, and core technology infrastructure at the firm.

Reilly, who also spoke at the event, highlighted the importance of 5G tech for edge cloud computing, where data is analyzed more quickly by doing it closer to its point of collection.  

For Bank of America, Reilly said that could translate into “different ways to engage with clients than we’d had traditionally,” including new applications that leverage tools like video. 

Bank of America has previously publicly resisted the broader industry trend of public cloud adoption, instead choosing to build its own internal cloud service.

But in late 2019, the bank announced it was working with IBM to help the tech giant with its cloud offering specifically for financial-services firms. At the time, the bank’s then-chief technology officer Howard Boville said Bank of America would ultimately put some customer data on IBM’s cloud.

IBM announced the public roll-out of its financial-services cloud offering this April. 

“We have an internal platform, but the general trend in the industry to adopt third-party clouds, coupled with 5G, has meant there is now much more computing being done on the edge of the network,” Reilly said. “What used to be a network device very close to the client is now a network device, a firewall device, a security device, a storage device and a server computer.”

3D printing could prove key in BofA’s distribution of credit cards

Collectively, Bank of America customers spent more than $172 billion in the first quarter using one of the bank’s credit or debit cards, according to its quarterly report. And Bessant thinks another key tech trend to watch will involve how Bank of America produces and sends the cards that customers use.

The difficulties that surrounded supply-chain disruptions with the onset of the pandemic have been well documented. Insider has previously reported how some firms are using 3D printing to address short-term manufacturing gaps.

It’s just one reminder that Bank of America, despite its now-digitally-oriented nature, still does produce physical items that are used every day by consumers. 

“I believe that 3D manufacturing and the ability to do distributed manufacturing is one of the most important things that we as financial institutions have to think about in a much more entrepreneurial way,” Bessant said. 

“If I can’t get people into a mail center to mail out credit cards, do I have a way to digitally print those credit cards in a way that’s accessible on a retail basis? If there’s a sudden need for a human to have a book of checks, is there another way to think about printing on a distributed basis differently?” she added. 

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