During the COVID-19 pandemic that hit, well, everywhere in 2020, the banking industry was one that just couldn’t shut down. Banking is an essential service, and throughout the coronavirus, “Bank of America has focused on supporting the health and safety of our teammates and maintaining uninterrupted service for customers,” according to Roger Hinshaw, President of Market. from Oregon & SW Washington for Bank of America. .
Hinshaw answered some questions from the Vancouver Business Journal about how Bank of America has fared during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and what steps they have taken to make sure their teammates and customers are healthy and happy.
VBJ: Was Bank of America able to keep all of its employees? If not, how many employees were laid off due to the pandemic?
Roger Hinshaw: Banking is an essential service, and throughout the coronavirus, Bank of America has focused on supporting the health and safety of our teammates and maintaining uninterrupted service for customers. The Forbes Corporate Responders List recognized our company as one of the 25 US employers leading the healthcare crisis. We did not promise layoffs or job reductions in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and we had around 23,000 teammates who were trained and realigned across the company in new capacities as job requirements and health considerations were revealed. . We also accelerated our move to raise our hourly minimum wage to $ 20 / hour, more than a year ahead of schedule.
In Clark County, we are even expanding our Merrill team and plan to add several financial advisers.
In January 2021, in recognition of their hard work in the face of the challenges and unprecedented headwinds of the previous year, our CEO informed employees that they would receive “Deliver Together” compensation awards. In addition to the regular annual incentives, employees who earn less than $ 100,000 in pay will receive a $ 750 cash reward, and those who earn more will receive additional restricted shares.
Nor can it be said that our company placed great emphasis on promoting health and safety and limiting the risk of exposure, including keeping teammates informed and providing timely resources, tools, and ongoing access to a wide range. comprehensive benefits, many of them. which have been expanded during this time. Some examples include: free coronavirus testing and office visit charges; enhanced child care and adult day care services through which teammates can receive up to $ 100 per day for backup care without prior approval and with the provider of their choice; 24/7 access to free online behavioral health and general medical consultations until 2021 for those enrolled in one of our medical plans and we also support families through student enrichment programs through trusted partners.
VBJ: Overall, how was Bank of America affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020? What changes did the company see throughout the year that stemmed from the pandemic?
Hinshaw: Perhaps not surprisingly, amidst stay-at-home orders and the need for social distancing, we saw record levels of engagement with our digital platforms. Bank of America added 1,500 new features and enhancements in 2020, up from 1,000 in 2019. Seventy percent of Bank of America consumer and small business customer households and 77% of management customer households assets were active on our digital platform, managing many aspects of their financial lives. In particular, we saw an increase in the use of several of our digital tools, including our AI-powered virtual financial assistant Erica (over 17 million users, with seven million customers using Erica for the first time in 2020). At the start of the pandemic, Erica was trained to understand more than 60,000 coronavirus-related terms and questions to better meet the changing needs of our clients.
We also saw a 14% increase in the number of clients who chose to use our digital tools to make both in-person and virtual appointments. There was a 33% increase in the number of customers, including small businesses, using Zelle, our digital peer-to-peer payment program, and making 517 million transactions for a total of $ 141 billion.
VBJ: What were some of the changes or ways Bank of America had to adapt due to the pandemic? What adaptations are still being made?
Hinshaw: Our number one priority is taking care of people. As a result of the pandemic, we have focused our response and focused our resources on our teammates, our customers, and our communities. To protect employees, Bank of America went from having a very small percentage of remote workers to approximately 90% of our workforce working remotely in the span of just a few weeks. And for those employees who couldn’t work from home, we looked to benefits like bonus pay, extra transportation benefits, meals, and extended childcare benefits to give them the extra support they needed.
To better serve clients during this time, especially those in difficulty, we launched our Client Assistance Program in March, allowing distressed borrowers and small business clients to defer payments and consumers and small businesses. Companies request refunds for overdrafts and late fees.
Throughout the pandemic, we have followed the guidance of national and local health experts and continue to take multiple steps to minimize health risks in our financial centers, including daily cleaning procedures, social distancing, and quantity limitation. of customers who can enter financial centers.
At the start of the pandemic, Bank of America made a global investment of $ 100 million to help increase medical response capacity, address food insecurity, increase access to learning, and provide support to vulnerable populations. At the local level, we engaged with nonprofits that were beefing up emergency services and addressing food insecurity, like the $ 45,000 we gave to the Clark County Food Bank, as an example.
In June, we made a four-year, billion-dollar commitment to address the economic and racial inequality accelerated by the pandemic, focused on supporting communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by the health crisis.
VBJ: What are your hopes / goals for Bank of America in 2021?
Hinshaw: First of all, I hope that people are physically, emotionally and financially healthy and secure. I expect the economic recovery to continue in 2021. During the recent Bank of America earnings call, our CEO noted that we continue to see signs of recovery, led by higher consumer spending, stabilization of loan demand from our clients. trade and the strength of markets and investment activity.
Consumers and small businesses are now spending at an even faster rate than this time last year, and they are also paying off riskier loans, such as credit card balances, at a high rate. As the recovery continues, Bank of America will continue to focus on responsible growth and our economy is moving in the right direction with the progress we have seen in recent stimulus efforts. I applaud the continued drop in COVID cases in our region and progress on vaccines means we should be able to maintain our reopening Phase 3 status in Clark County and progress beyond that now seems possible. I remain grateful to our talented teammates as they help our Vancouver / Portland clients and communities through this health and humanitarian crisis. We will continue to work with community leaders and trusted nonprofit partners to identify and support existing and emerging areas of need, with a particular focus on racial equality and economic opportunity.