How banks should prepare for normality


Bank leaders must plan carefully for how their workforces will return to normal when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, according to consultancy group McKinsey.

The advisory company said senior management faced “operational and organizational decisions with profound implications” for financial services staff and the wider population.

“The choices they make today will define the industry’s approach for years to come, with a generational impact on how it cares for its workforce,” wrote McKinsey partners Indy Banerjee, Raelyn Jacobson, Alexis Krivkovich, Ishanaa Rambachan, and Giorgio Libotte.

Banks across the US have been forced to take measures to reduce face-to-face contact between staff and the public, including cutting branch opening hours and encouraging customers to use drive-through counters and online services.

In addition, most states have urged people to work from home where possible, meaning banks have had to roll out remote working facilities and policies with very little notice.

The McKinsey partners warned that bank leaders faced “sharp choices” relating to their principles, most importantly the safety and wellbeing of staff. The months and years ahead could prove stressful for many employees and would require employers to “energize campaigns on physical and mental health at a level of intensity that very few have matched before”.

This could also be extended to employees’ families, the report said – and some banks have already done this.

The report also encouraged banks to explore new ways of communicating with staff, and for team members to stay in contact with each other. Linked to this, McKinsey said “complete transparency” was important to minimize anxiety, while also being careful not to make promises that could prove difficult to keep.

The pandemic and its effects had also “magnified” disparities within workforces that companies have battled to address for a long time, McKinsey said. The report’s authors urged bank leaders not to lose sight of diversity and inclusion measures and targets as they respond to the crisis.

“Changed approaches to recruiting, furloughs, and layoffs could disproportionately affect minorities, who are more likely to hold contingent positions,” the report said. “Continued efforts by banks to accelerate advancement for minorities and other diverse groups may be unintentionally limited by promotion freezes.”

Some banks were actively incorporating diversity and inclusion considerations into their COVID-19 response plans, the authors said, including special outreach efforts.

The authors also emphasized that the current environment and its immediate aftermath was an important period to “reinforce culture”. Some banks were already taking measures to “reemphasize the role of community and family as a pillar of culture”, the report said.

Banks of all sizes have made billions of dollars in donations to charities and non-profits to support the fight against the COVID-19 virus, with some even setting up separate foundations to finance the support efforts. Many community banks have sought to work with local charities, non-profits and food banks to support their communities.

Financial services companies could use this period to “strengthen their sense of purpose”, McKinsey said, through fulfilling a “social mission that supports households and businesses with access to credit and reclaim the bank’s employee value proposition”.

“The question for all leaders will be how to adapt and learn from the plethora of innovations and experiments applied to ways of working and identify which innovations, if adopted, might provide substantial uplift to their teams and customers,” the authors concluded.

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