June 19, 2021 / VOLUME NO. 162
No Eulogy for the Office

Banks in the digital age aren’t giving up on their offices. Even Covid-19 couldn’t deliver these spaces their final death knell.

In April, M&T Bank Corp. announced it invested $58 million into a 38-story building in its headquarters city of Buffalo, New York, where it will occupy 13 floors. M&T calls it a “collaborative workspace” inside the Tech Hub at Seneca One, “the tallest privately-owned building outside of New York City.” Last week, Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp announced it completed the renovation of its headquarters (pictured above) in the city’s downtown Fountain Square. And this week, Pinnacle Financial Partners in Nashville announced it would relocate its headquarters to a new office tower under development, where it plans to add at least 10,000 square feet of retail space. 

You might think this is an odd time to invest in office upgrades. Some banks closed branches due to the accelerated shift to digital during the pandemic. But Pinnacle spokesman Joe Bass says the bank prioritizes culture as a strategic asset, and time spent together is part of that. 

The renovation of Fifth Third’s antiquated headquarters got started in the planning stage in 2017, well before the pandemic started, but designers have no regrets. The new, 12,000-square-foot atrium adds open space, cascading ceiling artwork and a water wall, says Valerie Garrett, Fifth Third’s director of workplace design. It’s more than a symbol of Fifth Third’s commitment to Cincinnati. I believe it’s also a reflection of the growing need for banks to compete for talent. 

Here’s what I mean: Banks increasingly face a tough road attracting and retaining talent. This has been going on for years. Big banks compete not just with other banks but with other industries. Try persuading a new programmer or data analyst that she should work at a bank with a stodgy reputation, instead of moving to the Bay Area to work at one of the globe’s most valuable or exciting technology companies. If you’re in Nashville or Cincinnati or Buffalo, you could talk about your city’s enviable quality of life and affordable housing. And then pray it resonates.

Or you could show off your new office, impressing new recruits and keeping talented workers in an office with natural light and bright, open spaces. It’s not the only thing that matters. Good bosses, competitive salaries, collegial coworkers and opportunities for advancement are important. But offices continue to matter.  

In Garrett’s words, “the office isn’t dead. Post-pandemic, it’s more important than ever.”

• Naomi Snyder, editor of Bank Director 
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“We see what the market wants and know a lot of younger people are using these types of products.” — Doug Filak, Barclays US

Kiah Lau Haslett, managing editor for Bank Director
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