As Bank of America gets its 500 new branches up and running across country, cross-selling retail customers new services — particularly asset management — will be a big focus.

Speaking at an industry conference in New York, BofA's Dean Athanasia said Tuesday that the bank's biggest opportunity to expand in the years ahead is in its retail brokerage, noting that only 15% of customers utilize its online investment platform, Merrill Edge.

Nevertheless, the business is one of the fastest areas of growth within BofA's retail division. Client brokerage assets have increased by 54% over the past three years, to $182 billion, according to the company.

“That’s coming on as fast as we can get people trained up in our financial centers, and as fast as we can move forward in the digital space adding features and capabilities,” said Athanasia, president of small-business banking and co-head of consumer banking.

“It’s just got a huge runway for us in terms of growth,” Athanasia said. The company expects to continue expanding retail brokerage assets at a "double-digit" clip in the "foreseeable future," he said.

The comments underscore how B of A’s consumer bank — which accounted for 42% of the company’s 2017 profits — is expected to be a key driver of growth in the years ahead.

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During his presentation, Athanasia emphasized that that the company has focused on courting customers with pristine, or nearly pristine, credit histories. Over the past three years, the average FICO score on several types of loans — credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and others — was above 760, he said.

Rather than accelerating loan growth by chasing borrowers with more blemished credit, BofA is looking at ways to increase penetration rates within its own customer base. Only 57% of BofA customers have qualified for a credit card, while about a third of mortgage borrowers have qualified for a home equity line of credit, Athanasia said.

“Whether it's a financial center or whether it's digital, we're interacting with them and we're asking them about their home loan or their auto loan or what their needs are,” he said, noting that the company serves one in every two U.S. households. “We've done the hard part, we've got all the clients, and there's room to grow in every single asset class.”

Still, while BofA focuses mostly on prime customers, Athanasia said the company is nonetheless keeping an eye on credit quality. "Clients are definitely levering up, and we have to watch that,” he said.

Athanasia also discussed BofA’s recent 500-branch branch expansion, which is focused on nine cities: Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Cleveland, Salt Lake City and Louisville, Ky. Each new branch is expected to be profitable within two to four years, he said.

Additionally, BofA is just over a third of the way through its plans to renovate 1,500 branches. After each renovation that has taken place, the company has seen a 40% increase in traffic, according to Athanasia.

He pointed to the company’s recent track record in Denver as a sign of things to come in new markets. BofA entered the city in 2014 with its first retail branch. It now has over $2 billion in retail deposits and, by the end of this year, will have more than 30 locations in the area, according to the company.

BofA's goal over the long term is to reach the top three in the city’s total deposit share, Athanasia said.

“Right when we go in, the clock starts, and the team is looking to bring in clients and grow assets,” he said.

Kristin Broughton

Kristin Broughton

Kristin Broughton is a reporter for American Banker, where she writes about the business of national and regional banking.