Healthcare Workers Key To Reopening Hard Hit Bank
May 1, 2020
By Keith Griffin, Managing Editor
Barry R. Sloane is hiring at Century Bank. But he’s not filling teller positions. Sloane, the bank’s CEO and chairman, is bringing nurses on board so he can safely reopen his institution when the time is right in Massachusetts.
Century Bank has created five full-time positions for recently graduated nurses fresh out of Regis College. Sloan came up with the idea after plotting what the bank needs to do to protect both its employees and customers.
“This is in the bank’s interest and the public’s interest,” he said in an interview with Banking New England. “My first priority in every decision will be [employees’] safety. The absolute goal is to protect them.”
The hiring grew out of conversations Sloane had with Kathleen McGillicuddy, bank’s vice president and director of human resources.
Sloane has 480 employees in his organization with 318 at the Medford, Massachusetts headquarters. The pandemic has hit Century Bank hard. It lost one employee to the pandemic. As many as 150 employees have been out because of it. That number was down to 60 as of April 30.
“It’s all about a whole new system we need. We are going to live with it for the rest of my business career,” said Sloane, 57.
He hasn’t stopped to tally the dollar cost behind adding five new employees, as well as buying new technology and capital improvements. “Right now, we’re worried about solutions,” Sloane said. Century Bank has over $5.7 billion in assets.
According to information supplied by the Regis College School of Nursing, the average salaries for nurses in the Boston area is $60,198 for RNs (or $29.33 per hour).
Sloane worked with Regis, a longtime bank customer, to find candidates to interview. The college’s president, Toni Hays, said Sloane has long been known for his innovations. “This is not only a way to reopen but to stay open,” she said.
Hays, who has 40 years of experience in nursing, said, “I believe this will set a precedent. I’ve never had a bank call me asking for nurses and to apply for a job.”
Daniel J. Forte, president, and CEO, Massachusetts Bankers Association, said, “It’s a bit early to forecast re-entry strategies, but I don’t think Century will be an outlier in this regard. Many major corporations and commercial real estate properties are starting to think along these lines. It’s important to put the safety of customers and employees first.”
What Sloane is doing is consistent with recommendations McKinsey Consulting makes. In a report issued at the end of April, “Shaping and safeguarding the banking workforce after COVID-19,” the consulting firm advises, “Most important, banks should continue to take the stance of prioritizing employee well-being.
“Companies will need to energize campaigns on physical and mental health at a level of intensity that very few have matched before. This includes, for example, wellness check-ins and virtual mental-health gatherings with experts or even expanded healthcare coverage.”
Nurses will take temps daily as workers enter the headquarters. They will be stationed at entrances from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. They will also screen visitors and vendors entering the building. During the day, they will also walk through the offices making sure employees are practicing social distancing and wearing masks and gloves when in public spaces. (Masks and gloves won’t be required in private offices when workers are alone.)
The nurses will make sure all the employees are taking the proper steps to minimize exposure and transmission. Sloane said regular employees couldn’t be expected to admonish peers about unsafe habits. He also knows enforcing the rules will require some punitive steps. “Ultimately I have to implement some penalties.”
The oversight also couldn’t be handled by non-medical staff, Sloane explained, due to possible privacy issues. An employee might have underlying health reasons not related to COVID-19 but would not be willing to disclose what they are with no expectations of mandated confidentiality.
Sloane has set strict requirements for the nurses. They can only work for Century Bank and do not outside per diem work on weekends. “I don’t want people who are exposed to another healthcare environment,” he said, which is why he didn’t turn to a nursing agency to staff the new positions.
Century Bank has acquired one thermal camera and might buy more as needed. “If it works the way they say, it’s going to be pretty miraculous,” Sloane said. The cameras will take the temperature of a person and a picture. “I won’t have enough people to monitor every door forever.” The camera will pick up people initially missed.
The branches are where thermal cameras will have the most value, Sloane said. A branch manager can monitor entry and react to a person showing a high temperature. In busier city locations, he added, a greeter will need to be added.
The bank will post access limits. A branch with three teller windows, for example, will only staff two. Guides will be placed on the floor, telling people where to stand safely. People won’t be able to enter a branch if it reaches capacity until a customer leaves. He acknowledges it will be inconvenient “but it’s better than having a branch closed.”
He said this system will be more comfortable in the warmer months but might test customers’ patience when the temperature drops and snow is falling.
Sloane said the bank is also working on reconfiguring its branches from dozens of sneeze guards to walk-up windows at locations without drive-through windows. Fourteen of his 29 branches don’t have drive-through windows. “What do I do? I don’t want the staff opening the doors,” Sloane said, adding appointments don’t protect staff or customers if someone is sick. “We were quick to close our lobbies. I will be very slow to reopen them.”
“This is a new element in our lives,” the veteran banker said. Sloane mentioned worldwide one billion vaccines would need administered. Greater Boston is a cosmopolitan area with Logan International Airport, for example, which sees 20,000 people arriving daily.
It used to be bankers would worry about things like blizzards and hurricanes striking their buildings, not pandemics hitting their workforce, he added. “We never sat around and thought about losing people,” Sloane said. “We never thought about the whole crew being out because of a virus.”