Companies right now are facing unprecedented challenges in responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak. While many across the U.S. are announcing layoffs and hiring freezes, Bank of America claims they hired more than 2,000 new employees in March alone and will not be doing any layoffs or job reductions in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. They also raised their U.S. minimum hourly wage to $20.
CNBC spoke with Bank of America vice chairman Anne Finucane this week on how the company protects the well-being of its more than 200,000 employees while also maintaining business continuity and protecting the bottom line.
What is the bank doing to help employees get through this difficult time?
Our 208,000 teammates around the world are our No. 1 priority and are critical to our path forward. It's because of their continued focus to making financial lives better that we can keep the wheels turning and be there for our millions of clients. That's why we won't be doing any layoffs or job reductions in 2020 as a result of coronavirus. In fact, during March alone, we welcomed more than 2,000 new teammates to our company in the U.S. in consumer and operations functions.
We are also protecting critical benefits, like 40-hour workweeks, paid sick leave and paid time off, and providing access and special allowances for child- and elder care. At our financial centers across the U.S., eligible employees will continue to be paid for their regular, full weekly schedule, even if their hours are reduced. They will also receive a special supplemental payment of $200 per pay period [every two weeks]. And at our U.S. call centers and operations centers nationwide, those teammates who continue going into the office and working overtime will receive double the hourly base pay rate when they work more than 40 hours a week. This quarter we also raised our U.S. minimum hourly wage to $20.
We also recognize that with school closures, work-from-home mandates and other added strains, supporting the emotional wellness and mental health of our teammates and their families is critical. That's why all our teammates and members of their households have access to confidential counseling services to help navigate through this period of uncertainty. As our CEO Brian Moynihan has said: "This is a health and humanitarian crisis. We need to take care of our people, customers and clients."
The coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the markets is causing fear and anxiety across the world. What is Bank of America doing to calm clients' fears?
For us, people always come first – whether that's our employees, community members or our clients. So for clients, that means providing access to the important services they use every day and being there to help those who are impacted by coronavirus.
Last week, for example, we announced additional support for our 66 million consumer and small business clients to help mitigate hardships during this time. From deferring payments on small business or auto loans, mortgages and home equity to pausing all foreclosure sales, evictions and repossessions. Now that the new legislation has passed, once the rules are written, we will also work to implement the small business lending program.
For example, we have announced a $100 million commitment to help address the extraordinary challenges communities around the world are facing from the coronavirus pandemic. Recognizing that we serve and are a member of a broader global community, we need to work together — both public and private sectors — to devote the necessary resources and support to help clients and small businesses experiencing financial hardship during this unprecedented time.
To add to the solutions across our company and help communities during these times, last week we committed $250 million in capital and $10 million in philanthropic grants to community development financial institutions (CDFIs), which will expand access to capital to more small businesses and not-for-profits.
Bank of America has always been very community-minded. Are you currently introducing any programs to help communities or small businesses that are straining under the impact of COVID-19?
We committed $100 million to help increase medical response capacity, address food insecurity and provide assistance to the world's most vulnerable populations. The majority of these funds will be distributed on the ground in local communities, focused on both immediate needs facing communities and providing ongoing support in the months ahead. Our in-market teams across the U.S. and internationally, are currently assessing local needs and deploying the funds to our partner organizations to maximize the impact of our support. We're also increasing funding to several national and global organizations who are on the front lines, tackling the most pressing issues in neighborhoods around the world.
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Also, with widespread elementary and secondary school closures, one of the most pressing issues is ensuring that hundreds of millions of students can continue to learn over the weeks and months ahead. To address this need, we expanded our partnership with the Khan Academy. This education nonprofit has been a partner of ours for eight years and has a bold vision for closing the education gap and advancing learning through this period of disruption. Importantly, they have a track record of getting things done. In times like these, the private sector has a responsibility to help bring this type of innovation to scale quickly, which is why we are supporting the Academy to help scale up their learning programs to provide free, interactive learning materials for students, and tools for teachers and parents while schools are closed. At Bank of America, this is how we operate ‒ serving our clients and communities, taking care of our teammates and making progress on society's biggest issues.
In what way do you believe these programs will help Bank of America grow responsibly?
Core to our business is what we call "responsible growth," which shapes all we do as a company. As a global bank, we deploy capital that helps drive change and solves some of society's biggest challenges — including the most pressing one the world is facing today: coronavirus.
Our focus on responsible growth enables us to help make financial lives better for our clients and employees; and while we focus on growth, we are doing so in a way that centers on our clients' needs, fits within our risk appetite and is sustainable. This last piece — growing sustainably — is especially important because it involves driving operational excellence, being a great place to work for our teammates and sharing our success with the communities we serve.
CNBC has reported that it will take at least six months for businesses to get back up and running normally again after the pandemic ends. Is Bank of America feeling any strain under the impact of coronavirus?
You don't need to watch the news for more than five minutes to know that millions of people across the world — from families to hospital workers to small business owners — are struggling. As our CEO Brian Moynihan says, "This is a war. We're in a war to contain this virus. The interesting thing is, everybody has the same common enemy across the whole world."
In times like this, we need to be there for each other, and everyone — including the private sector — needs to step up and provide relief to those impacted. We're continuously monitoring the best way to address needs, but our No. 1 priority is looking after people. This is not like the last financial crisis — the banking industry has capital liquidity, which it is using to ensure that our employees and our clients are in the best possible position financially. We must use this capital wisely, and we need to continue to be prudent in how we manage ourselves during this humanitarian and health-care crisis.
Have you had to restructure your workflow in any way?
Across the company, we are all doing "double duty" right now — trying to do all we can to help our teammates, clients and communities steer their way through this crisis, while also keeping up with day-to-day business as usual. So that means being very focused on operational matters – such as ensuring we have the right number of employees addressing the needs of our customers and clients, and ensuring our approximately 150,000 teammates who are currently working from home have the equipment and resources to do that.
On a personal level, I'm also learning to adapt to our new normal. I function better with a routine, so I'm trying to set boundaries and create structure for myself, taking a quick walk each day and eating reasonably well — at least trying not to eat too much chocolate! I am working hard to find things, even if they are small, to appreciate during these challenging times.
JOIN @Work: Join CEOs and experts including Arianna Huffington, Lazlo Bock and John Chambers for an interactive discussion on leadership and management amid this unprecedented crisis at the CNBC @Work Virtual Summit on April 2 at 12pm ET. For a full agenda and details, visit CNBCevents.com.