As banks implement business continuity measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, steps are also being taken to shore-up staff morale. Matthew Koder, head of global corporate and investment banking at Bank of America, gave a pre-recorded pep talk to staff in EMEA this morning stressing the need to stay safe - but also to stay in contact with clients as the virus spreads in the west.
Koder began by reassuring BofA staff that while "things will get much worse" before they get better, the disruption caused by the virus will not last forever. Look at China, said Koder, reeling off a litany of positive economic indicators: "In China, Alibaba’s delivery arm is already back to pre-COVID-19 levels."
While the virus is going to be a challenge for everyone, Koder said it also represents an opportunity for Bank of America and its clients. "We should be concerned for their health and wellbeing and for the health and wellbeing of their employees," he said of the bank's clients. "We need to be empathetic and sympathetic...Everyone out there is worried… they need comfort and advice...Every company is going to be affected in some way. They are going to want to hear from us.”
As markets rupture, Koder said there will also be financing opportunities for the bank. "In times like this, there is a massive premium on a company solidifying its liquidity and market structure,” he told BofA staff. Clients that don't do this will be punished, Koder added. “Given that there is also a risk that many corporates will not be able to raise capital in the public markets… our clients need us more than ever and we want to be there for them.”
Last week, investment bankers at BofA criticized the bank for failing to implement back-up plans allowing them to work from home like employees at rival bank. Today, insiders say the bank is preparing plans to rotate teams of employees between their homes and the EMEA office, starting soon.
Koder's pep-talk suggests that when employees are working from home, they will need to strenuously reach out to clients. "I know it is difficult to meet physically with clients, so please connect through other means,” he said this morning, adding that BofA staff need to work together to sell the bank holistically and to ensure communication takes place between disparate teams.
BofA staff also need to be confident in the strength of their employer, said Koder, referencing BofA's "fortress balance sheet." The bank has $100bn more in tangible common equity than in 2007; its tier one capital ratio is double its level at the last financial crisis, and BofA has 47 months' funding compared to 23 eleven years ago.
If any junior bankers want help or reassurance, Koder urged them to seek it from managers or senior staff. “Even though it’s clear that none of us have ever seen anything like COVID 19, we have seen the market react to other issues. Many of us personally have been through challenging experiences in our career and we can offer you support,” he added, before intoning everyone on the call to, "Stay focused on staying healthy."
Bank of America declined to comment on Koder's advice. Some insiders said they were reassured by the call and that everyone is confident in the bank's actions and pulling together for clients, but others said it didn't go far enough. "There was an expectation that this call would be about the plan for employees, but it was really a call about the importance of focusing on clients," said one.
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