Jul 16, 2020

People First: Caring for Employees and Clients Through Crisis

As businesses refocus and manage uncertainty through the
COVID-19 pandemic, one piece of advice applies to every industry: put people first to instill confidence, focus and resiliency. This has long been a leading value at CWB, a steadying guide through the recent turmoil. Here’s how it fueled our effort to support clients and generated a ‘Day of Thanks’ – an extra day off – on July 17 for employees.

Proactively engage

“At the outset [of the pandemic] in mid-March, we knew we were headed toward an unprecedented shutdown,” recalls Stephen Murphy, Executive Vice President of Banking at CWB. “We had to mobilize our people immediately.”

“Our clients needed instant help to mitigate the uncertainty, so our team made thousands of personal phone calls to understand each financial situation,” he says of the client commitment. “It was the right thing to do, even though we didn’t have full details on how to act on what we learned.”  

“We then made payment arrangements for approximately 20 percent of our clients,” Stephen continues. “Once we processed that, the government started to mobilize around the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and other sponsored lending programs. We ran the data on our eligible clients, and then reached out to educate our clients and get going if they needed help.”

This proactive approach is CWB’s ethos in action. The result was deferred or adjusted loan payments for thousands of business owners through CWBhasyourback. 

“We’re inspired by the hustle and resilience of business owners, so we look to be a strategic business partner that helps them through some of their most challenging times,” says Kelly Blackett, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Communications at CWB.

Care for internal teams translates to better client support 

While relationship managers burned up the phone lines and support processes clicked into place behind the scenes at CWB, leadership worked hard to ensure employees felt the same level of proactive engagement.

“Our primary value is people first,” says Kelly. “That means our top priority is to protect the psychological and physical health and safety of our people and our clients. With that in place, the decisions become pretty easy.”

One decision involved a quick transition to work from home for over 85 per cent of CWB employees. Further moves included strengthening technology infrastructure, providing employees with an extra 10 paid days off (no questions asked) to help with child and elder care, and most importantly, a ‘no layoffs’ guarantee broadcasted throughout the business. As the situation unfolded, Kelly credits robust employee communication channels, quick and consistent crisis communications, and a variety of feedback tools that kept leadership well informed. 

With its employees cared for, CWB then turned to create a decision making structure that could respond nimbly to the fluid nature of the pandemic. “We identified 13 highly-skilled individuals, asked them to temporarily leave their core job functions, and created a response team,” explains Kelly. “Their recommendations were escalated to a smaller team at the executive level. It basically set us up to make decisions within or under 24 hours.”

Underpinning each decision was the value of ‘people first’, Kelly expresses: “There’s so much you can’t control through a situation like this, but the better we take care of our people, the better they’ll take care of our clients.”

To recognize their hard work and dedication through the pandemic, employees received the gift of time. Friday, July 17 will see all CWB branches close so employees can enjoy a paid holiday, an additional long weekend to recharge with friends and family this summer

What does a new normal look like?

There will be debate about what comes next as economies and businesses gradually reopen. The world may never look the same, but there is a case for optimism.

“I think we’ve permanently changed to some degree,” Stephen states. “This will get more normal over time, but people will have different levels of comfort in how they interact. Our service has been and always will be more personal and individual than other banks. Expect us to become more tech-enabled, but the high-touch, personalized relationships we’re known for will not change. We see an opportunity to disrupt Canadian financial services, to stand apart and build growth momentum.” 

Kelly leaves one takeaway for business leaders as they move forward: look for ways to build trust. “This is an incredible opportunity for an organization to build their leadership brand and foster employee loyalty,” she says. “It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. What your teams want from you is a mix of optimism, honesty and vulnerability, and most importantly, to show that you care for them as individuals.”