The pandemic has forced banks to accelerate digitisation programmes and permanently changed working habits according to Gerald Walker, CEO of ING Americas.
Walker made the comments at BAFT’s 2020 Virtual International Convention and was speaking alongside Anne Clarke Wolff, chairman of global corporate and investment banking, Bank of America.
Hope that a vaccine will be distributed in both the UK and US before the end of 2020 has ramped up in recent weeks as Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and now Oxford University and AstraZeneca all released encouraging early-stage results to their coronavirus vaccines.
But Walker said the results would not herald a swift return to a pre-virus way of working at financial institutions, in part because of the greater efficiency some have found through remote working.
“We will never spring back to exactly where we were before,” Walker said.
For example, the greater efficiency achieved through video-calling clients meaning senior banking executives are unlikely to quickly return to international travel, Walker said. Clarke Wolff agreed, saying that banks would take an “incredibly cautious and measured approach”.
“We’ve all realised that commercial air travel is probably still many, many months away, so we won’t give up the importance of this new technology as part of maintaining and growing client relationships,” she said.
Walker expects many financial institutions will move to having a hybrid model for office working with the previous norm of going into financial hubs like Canary Wharf in London fading away.
“Whether those offices need to be in big urban centres is the question that we will all have to address, which isn't great news for real estate owners in some of the bigger centres, but I think people will be looking at satellite offices, they will be looking at places where they don't need to commute quite as much,” Walker said.
Leaders need to be “vulnerable”
Both Walker and Clarke Wolff agreed that the pandemic has forced cultural changes upon banks too, as communication changes from “bumping into somebody in the hall” to putting in “extra effort” virtually as preventing staff from feeling isolated becomes key.
Leadership had to change too, Walker said. There must be more transparency, more connection to staff and a better understanding of technology.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to have all the answers immediately. I think it’s incumbent upon us to be honest enough to say: ‘This is new – nobody’s dealt with this sort of thing in the past’,” Walker said.
“I've always believed that we should be a bit more vulnerable in our leadership style and that we should not pretend to know absolutely everything. We know an awful lot but there are blind spots we always have.”
Clarke Wolff hopes the pandemic could help young and future leaders understand the value in showing their vulnerability by bringing their “whole self” to work.
“We’re also going to need to inspire people and the best way to inspire people is starting with the most human elements that people see their leaders and managers – as people who are struggling with the same issues of getting dinner on the table, home-schooling and keeping people healthy and safe in a very challenging environment. I'm optimistic that this next generation of leaders who've lived through this period will set our industry up for a great period of success,” she said.