Banking’s New Normal: TD Chief Digital Officer Rizwan Khalfan

The bank has seen digital engagement rise by 30% and is looking to lean on its agile-focused roadmap long into the future.

As restrictions and regulations surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic begin to loosen up, retailers, banks, and businesses of all kinds are eager to move forward. For many companies, the preparation and planning has paved a new way forward that is hard to ignore—a path that focuses on digital engagement, customer empowerment, and personalization to a completely new degree. 

This is the new normal, and for an organization like TD, it’s an opportunity to hit the ground sprinting. The top-5 North American bank has a rare opportunity to carry forward what employees refer to as “the fastest technology pivot in the bank’s history”—a digital approach that brought tens of thousands of employees and nearly 10 million customers online within 30 days. 

Need to Know

  • TD’s Digital engagement is up 30% in Canada and 17% in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.
  • During the pandemic, TD developed and launched over 100 new capabilities to inform and educate customers as well as provide new services.
  • One service is a Virtual Assistant that within its first week logged 75,000 customer sessions and more than 135,000 customer interactions; another is SimpleApps, a platform developed in days that has been used over half a million times to facilitate relief service applications to programs like CERB and CARES.
  • Enrollment to TD’s real-time money management platform MySpend has also increased 30%.
  • Chief Digital and Payments Officer Rizwan Khalfan wants to ensure that the “muscle we built in the last three months will remain a core part of our DNA.”

Building the foundation for digital success

In the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, TD was well prepared to weather the storm, but that doesn’t mean it was a simple process. In April the bank’s group head of innovation, technology, and shared services Michael Rhodes outlined how TD recognized early warning signs that prompted a quick shift to digital-first initiatives. 

Two months later, TD has migrated all of its 60,000 workers to a work-from-home environment and completely shifted its product roadmap to highlight digital services and get as many customers as possible onboarded. Rizwan Khalfan, TD’s Chief Digital and Payments Officer is proud of what his colleagues have accomplished.

“It was an inspirational response at all levels,” he explains. “The entire TD team came together to focus on four things: ensuring employees are safe and happy, keeping banking operations going as an essential service, facilitating financial options and deferrals, and having an impact in the community.”

Building a foundation around those pillars is no small feat. In total, Khalfan explains that TD built and deployed over 100 new capabilities to reach out, inform, and educate customers around what TD can do for them and how they can maintain the same level of service they experience pre-pandemic. The goal was to “always find a way to deliver services conveniently,” according to Khalfan. 

“All of these capabilities were delivered within a week, and in some cases, just days, which for a bank is truly impressive.”

Rizwan Khalfan, Chief Digital and Payments Officer, TD

One of these services is a new virtual assistant that uses conversational AI to offer real-time responses to customer questions. Launched in the U.S. during the height of the pandemic, within its first week the assistant supported more than 75,000 customer sessions and over 135,000 interactions.

“We have one of the highest digital adoption rates among G8 countries, and those customers who are typically doing only part of their banking on digital are now stepping up to access our full suite of capabilities,” says Khalfan.

Another pandemic-specific capability was developed by TD’s digital team to handle government responses and programs, such as mortgage and auto-payment deferrals and funds such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Khalfan and his team developed SimpleApps, a platform that made it easy for users to apply for relief services. So far, 20 SimpleApp forms have been created, handling over 500,000 online applications within the span of three months. 

“All of these capabilities were delivered within a week, and in some cases, just days, which for a bank is truly impressive,” says Khalfan. “It was great to see our agility come out in terms of responding to customer needs in that respect.”

Riding a digital engagement wave

With all of its new capabilities and quick responses to pandemic-related shifts, TD’s digital team is reaping the rewards. Total digital engagement (mobile and online login activity) has risen 30% in Canada and 17% in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, based on April figures compared to February numbers. 

Existing TD platforms are also seeing surges. MySpend, TD’s real-time money management tool for mobile users, has seen enrollment also spike 30% as users look for simpler ways to track spending and understand their cash flow. 

One of the most impressive aspects of TD’s digital response to the pandemic is the bank’s ability to win over those who are completely new to online banking. It’s these folks who were likely going to be hit hardest by not being able to visit a branch and speak with a teller in person, so for those rates to increase and come with uplifting success stories, it was a huge win for Khalfan. 

“For those folks, the customers who are new to digital and onboarding with us for the first time, I’m so impressed. There is a good population of people who have enrolled in digital for the first time during this pandemic. I look at their feedback—they say, ‘I never wanted to bank online. Now I’m doing it. I love it.’ That kind of thing really speaks to our focus on making sure all of our capabilities are packaged into a fast, easy, and intuitive experience anyone can navigate through.”

“It would usually take years to see this kind of growth, but now it’s happening in months.”

Rizwan Khalfan

Wins like these are indicators of a digital-centric future for TD. As the bank’s digital engagement grew by nearly a third in just a few months, it is all but guaranteed that the majority of those users will remain online and choose digital-first, especially with the tools that offer the most convenience. For example, as branches closed, people still needed to deposit checks, so they turned to TD’s mobile remote deposit feature, which allows customers to snap a picture and have a check deposited instantly. While this technology is nearly four years old, TD stepped up and bolstered its capabilities to allow for three times as many deposits per second, and this is a change Khalfan thinks will stick around. 

“That’s a simple transaction, but once you learn it, you don’t see folks going back,” he says. “Once you are onboard onto an experience like that one, you see the value in it and you never look back.”

“It would usually take years to see that kind of growth, but now it’s happening in months,” continues Khalfan. “A lot of the simple digital transactions customers have learned through the COVID period are here to stay as permanent behavior.”

It’s a complex process trying to understand exactly what features and surges in usage will remain entirely online, but Khalfan knows that some things will still require a traditional approach. Complex transactions such as setting up a mortgage for a home will likely still take place in an office, but for a lot of other actions, that complete digital shift is more than feasible. 

The customer-first digital future

Although the exact parameters of the new normal for banking may be unclear, there is no doubt it will rely on digital platforms and the widespread adoption of new technologies. With that certainty in mind, it makes the new normal for TD’s internal roadmap clear.

“It’s about learning from what occurred and is still occurring, and making sure that the muscle we built in the last three months will remain as a core part of our DNA,” says Khalfan. “This is not just a one-off response. We’ve been evolving to create agility and embrace innovation, especially in our visible areas, and what we’ve seen is that there was another gear our digital teams could move into.”

Like many other organizations, digital engagement is obviously nothing new to TD. The bank has been moving systems to the cloud, developing bleeding-edge AI capabilities, and more, but this pandemic shifted that digital response into something Khalfan had never seen and didn’t know was entirely possible. 

“It’s about learning from what occurred and making sure that the muscle we built in the last three months will remain as a core part of our DNA.”

Rizwan Khalfan

TD typically operated with a handful of agile pods, which are teams dedicated to developing and launching platforms in an expedited manner. When the pandemic began, Khalfan realized he could empower his agile pods to deliver faster by reworking hierarchies and empowering teams to make decisions that focus on customer engagement. 

“We needed to make sure that the process at the bank was facilitating this agility, and not becoming an impediment,” says Khalfan. “The foundation was laid some time ago. We were already on the journey, but that journey became accelerated over the last few months, and we need to keep that pace because of the differentiation in the marketplace. It’s something we can make a part of our core offering on a day-to-day basis.”

Khalfan understands that the business environment has changed, but it’s the bank’s strategy that allowed them to adapt to the change quickly. “If the foundation is not there, then we wouldn’t be able to move and adapt,” he explains. 

As banking returns to some semblance of normality, customer’s daily habits will also likely permanently change. For example, it’s easiest to look to the retail sector, where services such as grocery delivery and ‘buy now, pay later’ payment options have exploded in popularity and will likely stay top of mind for customers heading into 2021 and beyond. For TD, the new digital banking standard will be similar to its existing standard that existed four months ago: Focus on customer engagement and deliver a highly personalized experience. 

“Do we have to recalibrate because of this shift in environment and behaviors? Absolutely,” says Khalfan. “But if you have all the capabilities, then you’ll be prepared. It’s not only about digital—it’s about the entire ecosystem you’re creating.”