ernie diaz

The head of US consumer distribution and wealth at TD Bank talks to Liz Lumley about learning how a bank becomes part of a community. 

Career history: Ernie Diaz  

  • 2018 TD Bank, executive vice-president, head of US distribution and wealth
  • 2013 TD Bank, regional president – Florida
  • 2010 TD Bank, market president
  • 2007 South Financial Group, president

Often as popular and competitive as its professional counterpart, university-level American football is big business in the US. At the end of the year, top teams strive to take part in what are called ‘bowl games’: holiday season celebrations with names like the Rose Bowl (in California) or the Cotton Bowl (in Texas). A long-time Florida resident, Ernie Diaz, head of US consumer distribution, wealth and TD Auto Finance at TD Bank, has been a long-standing committee member of Florida’s own prestige bowl game, the Orange Bowl. 

While the main purpose of the Orange Bowl Committee is to promote the annual game, as well as boost tourism in the state, the committee works throughout the year on community projects focusing on sports and youth. “Being a member of the Orange Bowl Committee is more than just having a football game,” says Mr Diaz. “You’re an ambassador, first and foremost for the game, but then you’re involved in so many community events and it’s so much about giving back.”

Deep roots

Many who work at banks know that their institutions are more than just a place that takes deposits and offers loans. Financial institutions operate within the fabric of many people’s lives, enabling funding for lifestyle events such as buying a home, obtaining education or taking a well-earned holiday. 

This understanding was central to TD Bank’s rollout of TD Workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It operates as a blend of research lab, brainstorming corner and community centre.

“We’re incredibly involved in our communities, it’s just something that we believe down to our core. It’s in our DNA; it’s part of the culture,” says Mr Diaz. 

He has been with TD Bank ever since the Toronto-based institution bought the Florida banking operations of South Financial Group, where he served as president, in 2010.

The TD Workshop is the bank’s first ‘test and learn’ centre and is presented as a ‘creative centre’. It is soliciting customer feedback before rolling out new products and services, such as new ATM software. It also hosts community events, including financial wellness seminars such as a financial education series with the People’s Emergency Center, a local non-profit organisation that advocates for urgently needed public policy changes on behalf of families experiencing homelessness. In addition, the Philadelphia centre is examining new store formats, for example by monitoring where customers prefer to have advice conversations.

All about the journey

One of the things TD Bank is examining is the customer journey via a multi-channel universe, says Mr Diaz. “How do you better connect the channels? How do you improve that experience for a customer as you’re navigating?” he asks. “For example, if you started a mortgage application or if you started to try to open an account, then that becomes an incredibly important engagement opportunity.” 

The bank is now discovering exactly how its customers engage with various channels, whether they be digital or physical, as part of the TD Workshop testing activities. While digital interaction is a growing customer touchpoint, TD Bank has also discovered that many still value the physical presence of a store where they can engage in face-to-face conversations. 

“What we’re seeing is that the customer wants to come in, wants to have a sit-down conversation,” Mr Diaz says. “A customer may opt to use a digital means to make a deposit or transfer, but when it comes right down to some very important situations and decisions in their life, what we’re seeing is that the customer does want to come into the store, the customer will sit down with us and we’ll have a conversation around an incredible life event like buying a home or planning for their retirement.”

Meet the people

Over the past 15 years, customer behaviours may have changed in terms of access and use of digital products, but according to Mr Diaz, “some of the fundamentals are very much present”. That said, he adds: “Long gone are the days where it was all about that physical location and just sitting back and waiting for someone to come in.” 

While the physical store remains an important role in TD Bank’s distribution strategy, it is not so much the real estate but the bank’s participation in the wider community that is “exciting”, he says. 

Following the launch of the Philadelphia TD Workshop, the bank plans on rolling out its ‘test and learn’ centres to other metropolitan areas in North America. “This concept of being able to test and learn, in real time and deal with customers in an innovation or test experience or lab setting, makes all the sense in the world,” says Mr Diaz. “I can see a couple of other important [metropolitan areas] for us.


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