May 2, 2020 / VOLUME NO. 103
In Adversity, Be Patient

In February, I walked into the type of bank branch that most people only see in movies.

I was in Columbus, Ohio, profiling Huntington Bancshares for a story about employee engagement. This was its historic downtown branch.

It looked like something out of Mary Poppins: high stone walls, Tiffany-style ceilings, walls lined with old-fashioned teller windows, stone floors indented where customers had waited in line throughout the bank’s long history.

A quote is inscribed over the exit: “In Prosperity Be Prudent, In Adversity Be Patient.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe the banking industry.

In the best and worst times, banks are defined by risk management, customer commitment and employee engagement. The latter in particular may end up being the secret sauce for banks in times like these, with the coronavirus sparking fears of a deep economic contraction.

A major dividend from increased employee engagement, Huntington Chairman and CEO Stephen Steinour told me in early March, is trust.

“Highly engaged colleagues trust their management,” he says. “That awareness has caused us to be more open with colleagues.”

Even though it wasn’t a full-blown crisis then, Huntington’s management team approached daily Covid-19 communications with openness. They shared the increasingly dark economic outlook, warned that employees would encounter challenges and, most importantly, highlighted the opportunities they would have to help customers.

Bankers are working long hours right now processing Small Business Administration loans and granting credit extensions, modifications and forbearances. Executives are bracing for elevated losses and depressed earnings.

Through all this, however, banks can serve as a source of stability — and their employee engagement as a well of strength.

“It creates a more aware, a more empathetic, more customer-sensitive company,” Steinour says. “Particularly in times that will get a little more challenging, that’s a good thing to have.”

•  Kiah Lau Haslett  / managing editor of Bank Director

Click here to read how Huntington Bancshares made employee engagement a core feature of its operating strategy, published in Bank Director magazine’s second quarter 2020 issue.
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