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How KeyBank Adapted and Evolved During COVID-19

Content sponsored in partnership with KeyBank

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted KeyBank like every other business, but how the company pivoted allowed it to become more productive than ever.

In November 2019, David Mannarino moved his family from Ohio to Michigan to serve as the Michigan Market President of KeyBank, a national financial services firm that provides deposit, lending, cash management, and investment services to individuals and businesses throughout the United States.

Mannarino was excited to apply his nearly two decades of financial industry experience to this new leadership role and help KeyBank grow. Then, just a few months into his tenure, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the entire company to change course.

Like so many businesses around the world, KeyBank had some big adjustments to make when stay-at-home orders and shutdowns impacted many of its branches. Everyone from executive leaders to individual branch tellers were used to spending time in their local communities, meeting in person, shaking hands and conducting business face-to-face. Suddenly, many employees had to adjust to the realities of working from home and serving its nationwide client base through virtual means, while KeyBank's branch teammates had to adjust to utilizing drive-thru and by-appointment-only means of serving clients and helping them through this uncertain time.

Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, the pandemic has also given KeyBank the opportunity to show its adaptability and flexibility in meeting the needs of both its clients and employees. spoke with Mannarino about some of the changes the company had to make and how it has evolved to continue providing the best possible service to its clients while supporting its team's new remote work needs. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted businesses in every industry, including financial services. What changes did you have to make at KeyBank to adapt to the COVID environment?

David Mannarino: When you take thousands of people who historically go into the office and are working in the communities they serve, and then you say very, very quickly, "We need to move to adopt both a work-from-home strategy and adjust how we service client needs at our 1,100 branch locations"… we had to spend time understanding what that dynamic would look like.

We spent a lot of time talking about the sensitivities around family matters and logistics. I think one thing that KeyBank has done a very good job about is taking more of a "family-first" approach. You have to do the right thing for your customer, but they also understand that, because of the way we're working in these unique times, it's OK to have a conference call at a different time than you normally would have to accommodate different schedules. It's OK if there's a dog barking in the background – you're not going to get in trouble for that.

The other side of that is that the health and safety of our employees and clients is our No. 1 priority. For folks in our retail branch network, [we were] making sure they had what they needed to be safe. We did a lot of polling of all our employees and the different lines of businesses, whether it was retail, commercial banking or the private bank, [to make] sure employees felt comfortable with what they were doing. What kind of technology changes did you have to make to accommodate employees who were working remotely?

D.M.: The IT infrastructure was already built to accommodate people working from home, and we were in a good place, because we regularly test this part of our business resiliency plan. There were also other things to consider like making sure people had printing privileges – little things that you might take for granted [in an office]. We were making sure they understood the risks of printing from home and educating people to take a second look – to make sure we're doing what we needed to do for our clients, but also protecting the bank. What challenges have you faced during this time of transition?

D.M.: One of the ongoing challenges we have – and I think all banks and companies have – is the fluidity of the situation. One week, the markets were going up and it looked like we were somewhat stabilizing. States were opening up, things were looking better; and then within a matter of days, multiple states went into some form of shutdown.

We're doing a good job with communication. We have to communicate at a great volume and with great speed. We're trying to ensure that all of our employees know, that, look, if you're in Michigan and things start picking up, there might be a chance we delay bringing people back into the office, or that we may need to tweak some of the policies and procedures we have. But we are also an essential service, so we had many retail team members going into branches who didn't have the opportunity to work remotely.

It's been important to listen to their concerns and respond with procedures and policies that create a safe environment for both them and our clients who still needed branch service. One of the things we've tried to do is educate clients on how we can serve them through other channels, such as online banking or our call centers. What role has flexibility played in the way KeyBank has navigated the challenges of the last few months?

Flexibility equals productivity, so the more KeyBank has been flexible with our employees, the more productivity we've seen out of them. A perfect example of that is what we did with the Paycheck Protection Program, which is part of the CARES Act.

We processed over 40,000 applications totaling over $8 billion. That was a phenomenal number given KeyBank's size and the states that we cover. It was through the tireless efforts of many KeyBank employees and executives alike that came together to help our clients in these unprecedented times. We had people from our branches and all lines of business – at all levels of the organization – reaching out to clients and process loans. It was extraordinary. What impact have branch closures and social distancing had on your organization? How were you and your team able to stay in touch with customers and communicate the changes happening throughout the pandemic?

D.M.: The [retail] branch closures … were difficult, because people are accustomed to just walking into the branch to do their banking. We moved to a drive-thru/by-appointment-only system to accommodate clients who needed to go into a branch for various services, such as [signatures on] legal documents for a bank loan or to access a safe deposit box. We were able to transform our drive-thru banking policies to make them more accommodating to the current situation and increased remote deposit limits as ways to help.

On the business side, we looked at it as more of an opportunity to educate our clients on things that are changing in the industry. If we had a business client who usually came into the branch to do something, [we called] our digital teams and our payments group. More likely than not, we had a digital solution that we were able to talk to the customer about, which added value for their business. The branches worked much more closely with the commercial and corporate banks as well as our enterprise payments teams. And that's just a testament to [our] "family-first" mentality – not only the [employees'] personal family, but the KeyBank family.

Another impact was moving to a "Zoom and WebEx" type of culture. You lose out a little bit when you can't look at the body language of a client and some of the things you would normally get out of an in-person meeting. But we are being extremely selective on what [in-person] meetings we have. If an employee from the commercial bank needs to meet with a client, they have to get it approved by myself or one of the other presidents in the market. We're really trying to push our people into doing video conferences for everyone's safety.

One positive that has come out of this whole thing is the acceptance of the technology. Our teams are working even better together today as cross-functional teams. There's a lot more pre-call planning going into it; people talking [to each other], which is something we take a lot of pride in at KeyBank. Were there any customer service or operational changes you made during COVID that will remain in place, even after the pandemic?

D.M.: It's hard to tell, but I can absolutely see us moving to a situation where people don't shake hands or exchange business cards anymore. I also think that a lot of meetings will be done via video conference.

I really think those things are going to continue because it's more accommodating to the client, and it's safer on both sides. As far as branches, almost all have been returned to open, full-service, non-appointment operations. But I do think people will now utilize our other channels more frequently, and I anticipate others will still want to bank by appointment or drive-thru. What do you believe the overall long-term impact of COVID-19 will be on the banking and finance industry? Do you have any advice for local and regional banks that are adjusting to the "new normal"?

D.M.: I think everyone has to realize this road to recovery is a long one. It's going to have fits and starts, and there are going to be times where things look like they're getting better [and then] worse.

It's our responsibility as an industry to know our customers better today than we've ever known them, because if we know and can help [them] see what the future is for their business, we can truly add value.

The better we know our customers, the better we can communicate internally to make sure that we're doing everything that we possibly can to help. And if we are doing the right things for our clients now, through these tough times … they're going to remember [that] their bank stepped up and took care of them.

We are not just bankers, [but] human beings; we talk to [our clients] as fellow humans about what they are experiencing. Being emotionally capable of having those conversations and not just pushing [financial] products is key to the relationship.

During the financial crisis, the banks were part of the problem. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think that the banks are a big part of the solution.





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