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In these difficult times, as many of our staff are either working in the front line as an essential service or working from home, we want to share our approach to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our colleagues.
Bank of Ireland’s Head of Financial Wellbeing Shane Quinlan tells Thinkbusiness.ie editor John Kennedy how improving the financial wellbeing of customers, colleagues and communities is at the heart of the Group’s strategy and ambition to be Ireland’s National Champion Bank.
People often make assumptions about banks that are rooted in long-held perceptions. The reality is banks look just as hard at themselves as they do at balance sheets, and one stark realisation that emerged in recent years was that some employees at Bank of Ireland were equally challenged when managing their finances as the public they served.
This harsh truth came from Bank of Ireland research that found a third of the Irish population were very worried about their finances and this was echoed in a similar internal survey of Bank of Ireland employees.
Ireland’s first Financial Wellbeing Index was published in 2019 and based on nationally representative research conducted by Bank of Ireland, in association with RED C Research. It revealed that Ireland had a Financial Wellbeing score of 61, which meant as a nation we were “managing” financially but not “thriving”, which is the optimum category of financial wellbeing.
These truths spoke fully to Bank of Ireland’s purpose under the leadership of CEO Francesca McDonagh to enable its customers, colleagues and communities to thrive. One way to achieve this is enabling people to thrive financially by making better financial decisions for themselves and for those that matter most in their lives.
In response to this, Bank of Ireland launched a new Financial Wellbeing programme in March 2019 to support consumer capability and confidence when it comes to their personal finances. The programme was grounded in nationally representative Financial Wellbeing research, which uncovered that more than half of people in Ireland (55%) have no pension and one in four would last less than a month without having to borrow if they lost their main source of income.
Guiding the programme is the Bank’s Head of Financial Wellbeing Shane Quinlan, who prior to joining Bank of Ireland in 2015 worked with Danske Bank across Scandinavia in senior customer and strategy roles.
"Our purpose is to enable our customers, colleagues and communities to thrive. That means being with our customers every step of the way as they make life decisions. Financial Wellbeing is about what you do with your pot of money, not the size of it. It’s about making sure that you can cover day-to-day expenses, plan for the future and cope with the unexpected, enabling you to do the most with what you have. Our research has shown that the majority of people in Ireland are not in as much control of their finances as they want to be, and the recent COVID-19 emergency will have exacerbated that.
"Through our programme, we want to help consumers build a better relationship with money, empower them to take control of their daily finances and ultimately support better financial decision-making for themselves, their families and their businesses. Consumers and businesses can improve their financial wellbeing in the same way as they improve their physical health or fitness – through awareness, setting goals, and accessing supports."
"A lot of it comes down to structure and education. Some people with high incomes can be poor at understanding or managing their finances while others on more modest incomes can have high levels of financial literacy, manage their finances effectively on a day-to-day basis and have their pension plans in good order. There are four pillars of Financial Wellbeing: save consistently, spend sensibly, borrow responsibly and plan effectively. It is about prioritising but also knowing how to structure, and the key to that is education and having the tools to be able to manage and plan."
Quinlan also explained that there was a strong focus on improving the Financial Wellbeing of his Bank of Ireland colleagues. An internal survey that ran in parallel to the national research revealed that 4 in 10 of bank employees were challenged when managing their finances. This flew in the face of assumptions that just because people worked in banks, they were financial whizzkids. "There are lots of people who work in a variety of roles and skillsets across the bank that don’t necessarily get full exposure to the bank’s products and advisory services. In the first year of the programme we have focused on helping our colleagues learn more about good financial management and steps to improve their financial health by providing educational content, delivering seminars and launching a new Wellbeing app that includes modules on Financial Wellbeing."
Boosting the financial literacy and ultimately financial wellbeing of the Irish public is arguably one of the biggest missions for Bank of Ireland in its 240-year history. Some of the key initiatives delivered by the bank in the past year include the rollout of a new Youth Financial Wellbeing programme across primary, secondary and 3rd level, the launch of an online Financial Wellbeing Centre and Financial Health Check, a new digital investment self-service tool for customers, and the opening of a new Vulnerable Customer Unit to support customers dealing with particular issues of vulnerability (e.g. age-related, health-related etc).
Since the launch of the programme over 100,000 children across Ireland have participated in the bank’s youth literacy activities, over 1,000 financial literacy hours have been delivered to older customer groups, over 4,500 customer cases have been supported by the Vulnerable Customer Unit and more than 2,000 Bank of Ireland employees have attended Financial Wellbeing seminars and training with the Bank’s Financial Wellbeing Coaches. In addition over 100,000 people have engaged with the bank’s online Financial Wellbeing centre with more than 55,000 of those undertaking the personal or business online Financial Healthcheck.
COVID-19 crisis will focus minds on financial literacy
Zoom forward to Spring 2020 and like the rest of the world the bank is dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and through its actions so far, it is very much living up to the ideal of becoming the National Champion Bank.
In response to the crisis, the bank has created the technical capacity to enable 70% of its employees to work from home. It moved with speed to offer protections for businesses, streamlining services and fast-tracking payments to SME suppliers. The response included donating €1m in emergency funds to the Community Foundation for Ireland to help support the most vulnerable across the island of Ireland, creating a priority hour in branches for over-65s and carers, and temporarily waiving contactless fees for all customers. The bank also introduced mortgage and loan payment breaks, as well as new dedicated services for customers cocooning and healthcare workers.
As the Irish people and its businesses come to terms with the financial shock caused by COVID-19 to their incomes and wellbeing, Quinlan believes people will be more conscious of the importance of Financial Wellbeing:
"As we saw after the global financial crisis in 2008 customer attitudes to finances are likely to shift on the back of COVID-19. We are likely to see a demographic of people emerge who are going to be averse to building up debt and who will be more focused on building up savings buffers to be prepared for any future shocks. I would expect to see an increased appetite from consumers to engage with the bank on their Financial Wellbeing"
Quinlan said that Financial Wellbeing is at the heart of Bank of Ireland’s drive to help the Irish economy get back on its feet.
"As a bank we will focus on helping our customers improve their Financial Wellbeing as we emerge from the crisis. As the crisis hit, we put in place a lot of supports such as payment breaks, waiving of fees and measures aimed at assisting vulnerable customers through this emergency. As the country starts to recover, supporting our personal and business customers to rebuild after the crisis will be a key focus."
If we do this right and contribute to improving the nation’s Financial Wellbeing, we will be on the path to becoming Ireland’s National Champion Bank."
The chief executive of Corporate Banking at Bank of Ireland Tom Hayes tells Thinkbusiness.ie editor John Kennedy about the thought process behind the Staying Healthy Together programme and the crucial role it is playing in helping colleagues navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
"I think how we respond to the needs of our colleagues and our customers during the current crisis will define those relationships going forward," said Tom Hayes, CEO of Corporate Banking at Bank of Ireland, as we discuss how an organisation of more than 10,000 people, including many on the frontline in branches, many juggling working from home with responsibilities as carers and parents, has so far adapted to the so-called "new normal."
Hayes was one of the driving forces behind Staying Healthy Together, a 10-week programme led by fitness and wellbeing expert Karl Henry aimed at supporting colleagues’ mental, physical and financial wellbeing. The programme includes everything from fitness tips and live Q&As to weekly challenges, dance work-outs and much more and is also supported by the Bank’s Sporting Ambassador Shane Lowry.
At the time of writing close to 4,000 employees of the bank have logged in to the Wellbeing mobile and desktop app and the initiative chimes in with various other initiatives such as Recognising Success to acknowledge the contribution of colleagues who have gone "above and beyond" to support customers and co-workers.
Staying Healthy Together was one step in a myriad of efforts to support customers, colleagues and communities throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The bank moved with speed to assist personal and business customers, offering a range of supports including mortgage and loan repayment breaks, helping elderly customers cocooning, offering dedicated support for healthcare workers, streamlining services and fasttracking payments to suppliers. The response has included donating €1m in emergency funds to the Community Foundation for Ireland to help support the most vulnerable across the island of Ireland.
"My overall feeling when I look at how the bank and staff have generally responded to the crisis is one of immense pride," said Hayes "From two perspectives. Firstly, how the bank has responded to customers particularly in terms of supporting the most vulnerable at this time.
"And then secondly if you layer on top of that the way that staff have responded – it has been right across the board from branches to contact and support centres, and staff working from home who are providing all of the essential services against the backdrop of extraordinarily challenging times – it has been really outstanding and has made me really proud of the organisation that I work for."
Enabling customers, colleagues and communities to thrive
Hayes said that the Wellbeing programme is a small but essential element in helping the organisation to keep people connected and support their wellbeing. "I think how banks and organisations generally act through this crisis in terms of how they relate to their own employees and customers will define the relationship with those employees and customers for the future.
"From a leadership team perspective, we recognised early-on that it was vital that we remember to ground every decision we make by asking ourselves what that means for each of our stakeholders, our customers, our colleagues and our communities!
"We felt that every employee across the organisation is going to be impacted by the crisis in different ways. Some will miss the office or the commute, some will not. Some will find it easier than others to work from home. There are colleagues who are on the frontline who feel nervous about going into branches or using public transport. But overall there is the sense that everybody has embraced it completely and willingly."
Hayes said the alacrity with which the bank’s workforce embraced the “new normal” as Ireland drifted into a lockdown that became even more vigorous as the country stepped up to flatten the curve spoke to Bank of Ireland’s culture and values.
"We talk about ‘one group, one team’ being one of our core values and I think it is fair to say that we are living that value better today than we have at any stage in the bank’s history."
An emphasis on employee wellbeing during 2019 resulting in a new app being introduced in February 2020, just ahead of the COVID-19 crisis, was pure serendipity.
“First and foremost, it was grounded very much in our purpose: to enable customers, colleagues and communities to thrive. That was the message that our CEO Francesca McDonagh had been articulating from the start. A huge amount of work went into reinvigorating employee wellbeing in 2019, resulting in an app that was designed to help colleagues to thrive under three key headings: mental, physical and financial wellbeing.
"Clearly the huge amount of work undertaken by our Culture and Internal Communications teams to develop the app was done without realising that COVID-19 was just down the tracks. But if we hadn’t developed that app we wouldn’t have the functional capability that we have today and we’d probably be struggling to engage with colleagues the way we are at the moment.
"But in essence, at the heart of this was a recognition that if we are to thrive as an organisation then we have to have colleague wellbeing as one of the key principles that are at the centre of everything we do.
“When the crisis came, and it became clear that we were going to deal with a whole host of different challenges and our colleagues were going to be faced with a variety of different personal challenges –being on the frontline, working from home, caring for children or elderly relatives – then the importance of the programme grew exponentially."
Hayes explained that choosing fitness guru Karl Henry – one of the key faces of RTÉ's Operation Transformation – was about making the programme something that was personal, meaningful and bespoke for colleagues.
"As well as being an exceptionally talented trainer, Karl brings a huge amount of energy and drive to everything that he does and represents a positive, encouraging face for our wellbeing programme at a time when colleagues really need support.
"I sat down with Karl and the Culture and Internal Comms team, including Claire Murray, Barbara Nestor and Kelly Spratt, and between us we came up with the concept of Staying Healthy Together. It dovetailed really well with the capabilities we have on the app and our ambition to support all aspects of colleague wellbeing.
"Spectrum did a fantastic job working closely with Karl and his team in building the content to meet the needs of colleagues. No two colleagues have exactly the same needs and requirements and for many people who are working remotely it is quite hard when you are not interacting with colleagues in the same way as you would in the office. The Staying Healthy Together programme adds a variety of rich content that people can dip in and out of."
Hayes explained that the decision to involve golfer Shane Lowry was based on his standing as one of our most popular sportsmen, who would resonate with the bank’s employees across the organisation both at home and abroad. “Shane has been a great addition to the programme and has enthusiastically embraced the weekly challenges."
"Focusing on employee wellness has never been so important given the extraordinarily traumatic times we are going through. You must focus on all aspects – it has to be about mental, physical and financial wellbeing.
"As well as demonstrating the important role that digital technology plays at critically important times, I do believe that Staying Healthy Together has helped to create a sense of togetherness amongst colleagues that hopefully will be beneficial for them and the organisation both now and for the future," Hayes concluded.
Bank of Ireland’s chief people officer Matt Elliott talks to Thinkbusiness.ie editor John Kennedy about guiding the bank’s workforce through the COVID-19 crisis.
For most of us, be it in our lives or our careers, there has never been anything like the COVID-19 crisis. In a relatively short period of time it has upended our personal and professional lives, impacted loved ones, shook the economy to its core and challenged us to work in ways we never had before.
At the spearhead of Bank of Ireland’s efforts to manage the complex array of challenges and logistics is chief people officer Matt Elliott.
Elliott sums up the overall leadership approach from the bank during the crisis for customers, colleagues and communities as reassuring and calming.
He agrees there has never been a time like it in his own career. "The only time that is similar was when I was working at oil and gas company BP during the Arab Spring and we had to get 100 people out of Libya when there was literally no transport infrastructure. From a human perspective it was a good lesson in crisis management."
But this time is different. "There is no finish line. It is unprecedented. But when I see the response of the bank to the crisis, I think it is one to be proud of."
The response by the bank to protect the safety and needs of personal and business customers nationwide as well as more than 10,000 colleagues reflects its essential role in Irish society for more than 240 years.
It is no mean feat and extremely complex when you consider the safety of frontline workers, many of whom have families with vulnerable members to consider, as well as thousands of colleagues who have had to embrace working from home; some for the first time.
An important facet of the bank’s reaction to the crisis has been a focus on colleague wellbeing from a physical, mental and financial perspective. In mid-April Bank of Ireland launched a 10-week wellbeing programme ‘Staying Healthy Together’, focusing on our physical, mental and financial Wellbeing throughout the COVID-19 crisis. "We were very timely with our Wellbeing App for colleagues in February, but bringing the 10-week programme with Karl Henry and other experts like Shane Lowry to be accessible on our colleagues’ mobile devices was key," said Elliott.
It was one step in a myriad of efforts to support customers, colleagues and communities. To enable remote working, the bank put in place technologies to enable between 6,000 and 8,000 people to work remotely. It moved with speed to offer protections for businesses, streamlining services and fast-tracking payments to SME suppliers, offering supports for farmers and more. The response has included donating €1m in emergency funds to the Community Foundation for Ireland to help support the most vulnerable across the island of Ireland, creating a priority hour for over-65s and carers and waiving contactless fees. The response has also included mortgage and loan payment breaks, self-isolation and cocooning supports and dedicated supports for healthcare workers. As the crisis began, the bank also made the decision early on to temporarily close 101 branch locations in order to help curtail the virus and redeploy resources towards the services most in demand.
Customers, colleagues and community
As Elliott said, it is a response to be proud of. "We’ve been very focused on making sure that we can continue to provide what is a critical service to society. But also, that we take care of our colleagues’ wellbeing; mentally, physically and financially. What has guided us is the critical role for the bank in society and providing the services that we do at this challenging time. It is important for the continued functioning of the economy as well as wider society.
"The Bank of Ireland’s response has been characterised by a real commitment and passion to get things right and deliver the right outcomes for customers, whether it was introducing mortgage breaks, fast-tracking payments for SME suppliers, creating a priority hour for over-65s, right through to being open in dedicated hours for healthcare workers which was great to see. And within the bank as well, just as much as creativity drives commitment, it has been about making sure that we take care of each other and do the right things.
"This has been a time when we have really seen our purpose come to life, which is reflected in our commitments to customers, colleagues and community - whether it was targeted solutions for customers, the can-do attitude of colleagues or our emergency funding for communities. The thorough response at real speed; that breadth of effort and impact is something I’m really proud to have experienced."
Elliott, who was previously group people director at Virgin Money and recognised by the Financial Times as a passionate advocate for inclusion and diversity, said that when it came to taking care of colleagues, customers and society, each priority had to be treated equally.
"As a senior team we established very early on what the overriding priorities were. It was a case of balancing these priorities. You could not do one over the other. It was about communicating clearly with colleagues. Supporting customers also meant protecting colleagues in branches with screens, distancing markers, sanitising products and more. If you prioritised one over the other, you would not get far.
"Having that clear focus on customers, colleagues and community helped us to always make sure we responded appropriately to circumstances."
Wellbeing and human impact
For colleagues, an emphasis on wellbeing was essential.
"From a leadership team perspective, we immediately tuned into the human impact of this. Our CEO encouraged us to be supportive of each other and recognised the challenge of balancing work demands with personal challenges; everyone has concerns about family.
"We recognised how this particular crisis has a particular human impact and business leaders need to support their people through it. I can’t think of a better word to describe the response than 'authentic.'
"People needed to know that they can trust what they are hearing from leaders at a time of crisis. And we’ve had no qualms about putting the onus on wellbeing and taking care of each other because the situation is placing such a demand on us as human beings. We’ve been able to back up our message about taking care of each other with real practical support."
Elliott said that providing staff with Karl Henry wellbeing content via app to colleagues’ mobile devices was instrumental in keeping employees engaged.
"Other important steps such as bringing all of the COVID-19 supports together into one place really makes a difference. Having our HR team available 24/7 around the clock and not 9-to-5 is also important because people often need support outside the hours they are working.
"All of these are examples of the core message of supporting each other and taking care. Getting those supports in place for more than 10,000 people at a time like this shows how Bank of Ireland values its colleagues and most importantly, that colleagues can see that we are serious."
The power of people
Elliott has been in constant contact with peers in corporate organisations and banks across Europe. "The HR community has really come together in a way that I’ve never seen before to share learnings and be candid and frank about what the challenges are going to be. Many have talked about the can-do attitude of colleagues and the ability to get things delivered.
"For Bank of Ireland, COVID-19 has actually propelled forward the culture that we want to become. We are becoming it. Cultural norms we had been struggling to get to, suddenly we’re just working that way.
"The teamwork across the organisation has been incredible. People are working on things that are not their day job. They are working on essential tasks that need to get done. Some people are reporting to people who are junior to them. It doesn’t matter. It’s about doing the right thing and getting things done. The culture that we wanted to get to has already come to life in this period.
"My intention is to retain the good things that emerged during this crisis and hold that confidence for years to come.
"We’ve worked hard to build a culture that is trusting and open and we’ve had a real breakthrough in that regard during this period. Everyone has a sharper sense of what Bank of Ireland stands for now and how we all work together. I feel like this crisis period is the defining moment in terms of the longer-term culture of the bank."
Working differently will no doubt be a positive legacy from the COVID-19 crisis. “We were on a path to making work more flexible and agile. We had made good steps but had a long way to go. But now we have up to 80pc of the bank’s staff capable of working from home. The capacity to do more is there.
"We’ve all had to get used to working from home and we have found that in the most difficult and challenging moments, we’re actually doing it well.
"I do think working from home will be a much bigger element for us than it has been, and I actually think people won’t think twice about it; whereas before it was a big concept for people to get their heads around.
"That we are going to work differently is a given and I think there will be less use of office space as a result. What will be particularly different is how we will get smarter about how we come together as teams. We will probably be more pointed and purposeful about those interactions rather than assuming everybody goes to the office."
Elliott’s message to peers in people management is that while the COVID-19 crisis has brought firms further along in terms of technology, communications and working differently, there will be challenges.
“We’re definitely going to be working differently, so let’s make sure that we are in a place to support people to embrace it as an option once we’re out of this period where it is a requirement.
"There is a real fine balance. How you communicate and support the culture is critical and no doubt this crisis will impact your culture for a long time. But equally, there is also an opportunity to derive a positive legacy from this difficult time."
Before the rugby season came to a halt, we sat down with leading figures from our four provincial rugby partners to talk all things leadership, including managing high performance teams, navigating change and the importance of culture; themes as relevant in the boardroom as on the pitch.
Dan McFarland, Head Coach of Ulster rugby shares his perspective on leadership including the importance of empathy and credibility, as well as the ability to sell your ideas and bigger picture vision to others.
Johann Van Graan is Head Coach for Munster Rugby. In this video he discusses what motivates him, the importance of communication when navigating change and how the most successful teams are built on strong relationships.
*Based on Corporate lending information sourced from publicly available annual reports for 2020 for all Irish banks, Bank of Ireland analysis of its banking relationships with the top 500 companies from the 2020 Irish Times Top 1,000 companies list and Bank of Ireland analysis of its banking relationships with companies on the published listing of international companies setting up operations in RoI 2020.