June 12, 2018 / 2:47 PM / 4 months ago

Bank of America executive sees consumer unit's efficiency ratio flat to down

(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp’s (BAC.N) co-head of consumer and business banking said on Tuesday he expects the consumer banking unit’s efficiency ratio to remain flat or improve further as it cuts more costs tied to moving physical checks and cash.

FILE PHOTO: A Bank of America logo is seen in New York City, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo

Speaking at a conference, Dean Athanasia said the closely watched figure measuring expenses per dollar of revenue would remain below 50 percent for the unit but did not provide a specific time frame for the outlook.

The unit’s efficiency ratio fell to 49.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to 51.5 percent for full-year 2017 and 61.1 percent in full-year 2014.

The company earlier this year launched an artificial intelligence-based virtual assistant and plans to renovate 1,500 of its branches to include more automation. Athanasia said higher volume through the Zelle digital payment system launched in July 2017 would also help continue to improve costs.

Athanasia also noted that consumers have been spending more and “levering up” following the U.S. tax code overhaul in December, and that Bank of America has been monitoring the borrowing of its clients across other banks but so far has not seen any issues in terms of credit quality.

“Right now they’re at a pretty good level,” he said. “We just watch diligently.”

(This story corrects fourth paragraph to show Bank of America launched a artificial-intelligence based virtual assistant capability earlier this year, not a standalone app)

Reporting by Imani Moise in New York; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli

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