‘Leading through Adversity’: City National Bank’s CEO reflects on the pandemic and society’s transformation

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I had just finished my first year as CEO of City National Bank when I found myself face to face with a crisis no one was prepared for. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic altered our lives and the way we do business for the long term. It accelerated transformation in every industry and brought the worst (though it was short-lived) economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Inspirational Women 2022
Kelly Coffey CEO, City National Bank

Coming out of the pandemic has brought its own challenges as we face macroeconomic uncertainty and teeter on the brink of another likely recession. Meanwhile, at City National, we’re adjusting to new ways of working in our hybrid office environment and managing a technology and operational transformation that will enable us to continue to grow responsibly and scale our operations to support our clients even better as we do.

Despite the challenges, I’m incredibly proud to lead a team that has leaned into our strategic focus and never lost sight of what has set us apart for nearly 70 years since our founding - the highly personalized service we provide. As we adjust to the post-pandemic world, I think it’s useful to reflect on the key tenets that helped us successfully navigate the crisis and which I believe will help us continue to succeed, whatever comes our way:

1. Our commitment to our clients, colleagues and communities: When the pandemic hit, we put colleagues’ health and safety first. Then we focused on clients and our communities. I believe that’s how you create real company value - your colleagues, clients, communities, shareholders and regulators are all that matter at the end of the day. If we’re keeping those “three Cs,” as well as our shareholders and regulators, at the center of everything we do - that’s how we know we’re making good decisions.

In March 2020, we transitioned 85% of our colleagues to working from home, while protecting the essential colleagues who continued working in our branches and offices, such as those in operations, security and mail rooms. We prioritized supporting colleagues throughout the pandemic, providing flexibility and time off to adjust to changing routines and care for themselves and their families. Now that most of us have returned to the office on a hybrid basis, it’s important to me to maintain flexibility and make it work for colleagues and the needs of our clients. We’ve also stepped up for our communities and invested more in the past three years than ever before in organizations making real social impact and change. These include Baby2Baby, U.S.VETS, the Grammy Museum, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Project Angel Food, Broadway Cares, Cedars-Sinai and financial education programs in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and New York.

The third C is, of course, the reason City National exists - our clients. Supporting clients continued to be a top priority for us during the pandemic - including working around the clock to secure nearly 26,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, totaling nearly $6.2 billion, for small businesses that are the backbone of our economy, saving hundreds of thousands of jobs. We are now working with clients to apply for loan forgiveness from the government and have successfully obtained forgiveness on more than 90% (and counting) of the PPP loans we secured.

2. Diversity of thought: Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is an important part of our culture. Ensuring our company reflects the communities we serve and provides a supportive environment for all our colleagues has been a huge priority since my first day at the bank and continues to be. We know that a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace is better for our colleagues, better for our clients and better for our business. We’ve increased diversity across the bank, including at our most senior levels and on the board. About 70% of my hires have been diverse and five of the 11 directors now serving on City National’s board are women, including two women of color. We’re making significant progress, and the work continues. We’re committed to supporting colleagues across all aspects of diversity, but our focus on supporting women colleagues feels especially important right now given how many women left the workforce during the pandemic. At City National, we actually employ about 11% more women colleagues now than we did before the pandemic, counter to the nationwide trend. We’re also continuing to attract and promote women leaders, and we now have 31% more women SVPs than we did prior to the pandemic.

3. Open and transparent communication: I’m a big believer in feedback. It’s the only way to improve and the only way we will continue to make our great company even better.

We have a program called “Tell Kelly” that empowers all colleagues to send me suggestions and questions directly. I know good ideas can come from anywhere, and I answer every one. Colleagues can also submit questions during our town halls a few times every year, and our Executive Committee and I answer them live.

I’m sure we will face new challenges in 2023 as we continue to transition out of the pandemic and navigate the uncertain macroeconomic climate. The world is a very different place than it was when I joined City National in 2019. However, by continuing to follow these core principles, I am confident that we will be successful on the road ahead, no matter what it holds.