“Focused on getting people back to the office”: Bank of America executive


In the banking world, the rapid adoption of hybrid and remote work caused by the pandemic is not happening easily, at least not as a permanent state. And if one thinks that tech leaders within big banks might be more likely to see the ability of the world of work to be virtually recreated than CEOs from core banking divisions, Cathy Bessant, vice president of global strategy at Bank of America, will not be that person.

Bank of America walked away during the pandemic and it was the # 1 priority for employees. “The safety of our employees first, equipping our employees to work remotely, which was not an easy task, equipping them to work remotely, then focusing on performance for clients and customers every day” , Bessant, who was the bank’s chief operations and technology officer in a previous role, told the CNBC @Work Summit on Wednesday. “We were all in uncharted territory.”

And it worked through a notable measure of innovation: Bank of America received more patents in the first half of 2020 than ever before in its history during a comparable period. But now, as the world slowly returns to normal and return-to-office strategies, if delayed, are inevitable, Bank of America will revert to a more traditional work structure.

“We are definitely a company that has worked from the office culture,” she said at the CNBC event. “The reason is that the informal collaboration you are talking about, we believe it produces a better and more sustainable result.”

The executive of Bank of America is not alone among the peers of the big banks to agree.

This is a point made by JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon in his last annual letter to shareholders earlier this year, where he said that there are certain aspects of the office work and in-person relationships that Zoom just can’t recreate. While JP Morgan takes some aspects of a hybrid approach, writes Dimon in his letter, “remote working practically eliminates spontaneous learning and creativity because you don’t meet people at the coffee machine, don’t talk. with customers in unforeseen scenarios or do not travel to meet with customers and employees to get feedback on your products and services. “

Bank CEOs haven’t always made their views known to work as the 2021 remote work experience has been extended.

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called working from home an “aberration” earlier this year.

In May, Dimon was saying, “I’m about to cancel all my Zoom meetings. I’m done with this.”

He added for people who worry about commuting again, “yes, commuting, you know people don’t like to commute, but so do.”

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said in June, the week Goldman Sachs first asked workers to return to their offices, that there was a desire to return among remote workers. . Bank of American has over 200,000 employees.

“People want to go back to work,” Moynihan told CNBC in June. “It was interesting, I was at this wedding this weekend and a bunch of young kids were working in our industry for a competitor, and they’re all… tired of working in their rooms.”

As the summer progressed and cases of the delta variant increased, the big banks adjusted their plans and focused on vaccinated employees and additional protocols in the offices. But even as the Delta variant slowed down what was an aggressive timeline – at least compared to many other companies – for a return to Wall Street for many workers, bank executives remained worried about the nearly two-year balance sheet. Work at home.

“Our employees after 18 months are tired and they have performed brilliantly, but I think as a leader I question the sustainability of innovation, the sustainability of engagement and the building of culture in an office. perpetual distant or remote environment and that’s why we’re very focused on getting our people back to the office, ”Bessant said.

Work will change and technology will have to change with it, sometimes painfully, with the number of people who log into the branchless banking network taxing “every piece of our infrastructure,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if we are in the office, if we are not in the office, if others in the ecosystem have a different way of working, we not only have all the tools we need but our employees know how to use them. use and it’s a much bigger challenge than most people realize. ”

There are many aspects of the world of work that have “forever changed,” Bessant said, particularly in leadership and management, and empathy shifting from a soft skill to a core skill, “the ability to see things through other people’s eyes, even when you yourself can’t see them right in front of you at a desk or at a table. “

Many CEOs say they are out of breath trying to get people to come back, but Bessant is among the bank executives who seem convinced that this is a challenge that banks can, in the end. , raise.

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