US Bank’s Pandemic Response Proves Actions Speak Louder Than Advertising

The business community is struggling with the profound economic implications and uncertainties created by the coronavirus. Corporations can make a difference by stepping up to support the government as it tries to help small businesses and restart the economy.

Many organizations are rising to this challenge by launching a wide range of top-down Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, promotions, and campaigns. Some programs like those initiated by 7-Eleven, Corning and FedEx are based on sincere intent, purpose, and impact. Others less so. And sadly, many can be characterized as “cringeworthy” or “tone deaf” Covid-19 ambulance chasing.

The front-line bankers of U.S. Bank are remarkable in their efforts to support the small businesses they serve and help shape the path to recovery.  Their efforts stand out to me because they started an employee-driven program to help the businesses in their community and rapidly spread it across every market the bank serves – with no top down mandate or formal support.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, U.S. Bank employees have been teaming up with local small businesses to provide meals for health care workers and other first responders in a grass roots program now dubbed #SupportLocal.

Unlike many of the retailers, restaurants, and other small businesses they serve, banks remain open because they are deemed an essential business by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

As stay home orders shuttered restaurants in their communities, a few branch employees took the initiative to support these businesses by ordering lunch for staff. Word spread and it quickly became a nationwide effort, which has now been named #SupportLocal.  Over time the program organically expanded to include other essential businesses on the front lines, including hospitals, first responders, testing labs, food banks, and other businesses in the local ecosystem.

While this might not immediately change the course of the economy, it’s significant when you consider restaurant employees make up one tenth of all workers and represent 60% of the jobs lost in the pandemic  according to the National Restaurant Association.

The program started informally based on employee initiative and has spread horizontally across the company’s Consumer Business Banking unit to nearly every market served by U.S. Bank in the United States.

It is believed to have started in Las Vegas, where a local banking team partnered with Tony’s Mexican Grill and Cracked Egg to provide lunch for health care workers at North Vista Hospital and first responders at the Clark County Fire Department. The idea spread east across the mountains to Utah where co-workers in local branches recently partnered with Intermountain Healthcare to feed 1,400 health care workers at McKay-Dee Hospital in Salt Lake City. The grass roots initiative spread to Minneapolis where U.S. Bank employees partnered with Abdirahman Kahin, owner of the Afro Deli & Grill in Minneapolis, to provide lunch to health care workers at Fairview Hospital. Then the South Side of Chicago, where the bank funded a weeks-long program for local restaurants Majani Soulful Cuisine and Lexington Betty Smokehouse to provide lunch at nearby Roseland Community Hospital.

Today the program has spread to nearly every market where U.S. Bank serves Consumer and Business Banking customers – all without a top down directive from their sales leaders. After its grassroots start, the bank’s marketers came up with a #SupportLocal hash tag for social media and leaders encouraged participation. Expenses were covered by the bank, but there was no advertising. Employees in the consumer and business banking unit carried out the formal program largely in April and May, but other business units are also taking up the mantle, including U.S. Bank’s Elavon payments business.

To add fuel to these #SupportLocal efforts, U.S. Bank has instituted a premium pay program for front-line employees, modified personal and small business products for customers, and adapted community giving programs, among other changes.

Beyond connecting restaurants back into the local economy – the business bankers at U.S. Bank are on the front lines of getting PPP funds from the SBA Paycheck Protection Program to the place it was intended to go – the millions of workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. This is hard but meaningful work because the small businesses that employ the bulk of these out of work employees, are also the ones with the least documentation and back office support needed to get them. 

The Payment Protection Program created a volume of applications that was bigger than anything the industry has ever seen,” said Steven SaLoutos, Midwest Region Executive Vice President for Consumer & Business Banking at U.S. Bank, which has around 2,800 branches that span the country. “We had thousands of people working around the clock for weeks on end to help customers navigate all the steps required by the program. Many of these bankers were working long hours on nights and weekends, but they knew how important these loans were to our customers. In the end, many of these employees told us this was the most meaningful work of their careers.” Without this extreme effort and commitment to their small business customers, it would be easy for funds to get diverted to larger but less qualified companies with better processes and documentation or worse, lose them to fraud.

Business leaders can learn several lessons from these bankers:

  1. First, they’re providing an example for how organizations can transform their sales processes and cultures by enabling and empowering their revenue teams;
  2. Second the bank is demonstrating actions, culture and employee engagement can speak louder than advertising and promotions when it comes to building brand preference and purpose;
  3. And finally, they’re actively piecing together elements of the roadmap for rebuilding the economy in the coming months in a world of extreme uncertainty and financial distress.

At a time when most sales organizations are struggling to adapt to a new buying reality and foster teamwork across revenue teams, the bank reminds us that transformation does not require big strategies or advanced technologies.  Sales transformation can happen with a common purpose, teamwork, and communication across sales, marketing, and services teams.  The #Supportlocal program is a case study in all the core principles of effective revenue enablement:

  • Innovation at the edge of the organization.  Managers must find ways to empower customer facing employees by delegating authority without giving up control and accountability to support quick actions and decision-making by front line sales and service employees who engage customers directly on a day-to-day basis.
  • Rapid and complete information flow from top to bottom and across the organization. 21st century selling organizations work more like a network of connected teams than the hierarchical command and control structures businesses have used successfully for over a century.
  • Common purpose and goals for sales, marketing, and service. Revenue teams will only work together if they have one common and agreed upon scorecard for success – tied to account health, firm value and financial performance.  Only then will all these disparate functions and armies of customer facing employees work together in any meaningful way – much in the fashion the branch, marketing and support teams did at U.S. Bank.
  • Teamwork across geographies, functions, roles, and business units. Growth has become the ultimate team sport in the modern commercial model.  For most organizations, growing revenues requires teamwork at scale to harness the resources and talents of large sales, marketing, channel, and partner teams made up of hundreds or thousands of individuals.

In addition to sales transformation, the bank also represents a great example for how to build a brand based on culture, purpose, and employee empowerment rather than on the back of promotions, sponsorships, or Superbowl ads.  The advent and subsequent success of the #SupportLocal program is no accident given U.S. Bank’s history of being a highly ethical company and its stated goal of investing their hearts and minds into the power of human potential and putting people first.  By contrast, they spend significantly less on advertising than most major banks.

Steve Busby, CEO of Greenwich Associates – a firm that measures and tracks banking customer loyalty and behavior – reinforces the value employee engagement can create. “A crisis like Covid-19 is when banks can either build or erode loyalty with their customers based on how they treat them,” according to Busby.  “Social responsibility programs like U.S. Bank is doing, in addition to other forms of personal outreach, are a great way to build loyalty through actions that businesses will no doubt remember.”

Finally, no one knows what the new normal will look like, or how the economy will rebuild. A recent survey by the Revenue Enablement Institute found most businesses anticipate 18 months of disruption to their markets and go to market models.  Rather than wait for markets to recover, the front-line bankers at U.S. Bank are showing us a path – step by step – towards the economic recovery and coloring in the picture of what the” next normal” will look like.

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