The hydraulic gradient between aquifers and rivers is one of the most variable properties in a river/aquifer system. Detailed process understanding of bank storage under hydraulic gradients is obtained from a two-dimensional numerical model of a variably saturated aquifer slice perpendicular to a river. Exchange between the river and the aquifer occurs first at the interface with the unsaturated zone. The proportion of total water exchanged through the river bank compared to the river bed is a function of aquifer hydraulic conductivity, partial penetration, and hydraulic gradient. Total exchange may be estimated to within 50% using existing analytical solutions provided that unsaturated zone processes do not strongly influence exchange. Model-calculated bank storage is at a maximum when no hydraulic gradient is present and increases as the hydraulic conductivity increases. However, in the presence of a hydraulic gradient, the largest exchange flux or distance of penetration does not necessarily correspond to the highest hydraulic conductivity, as high hydraulic conductivity increases the components of exchange both into and out of an aquifer. Flood wave characteristics do not influence ambient groundwater discharge, and so in large floods, hydraulic gradients must be high to reduce the volume of bank storage. Practical measurement of bank storage metrics is problematic due to the limitations of available measurement technologies and the nested processes of exchange that occur at the river-aquifer interface. Proxies, such as time series concentration data in rivers and groundwater, require further development to be representative and quantitative.