January 27, 2021
Christopher D. Maher
So many things happened last year – from the Coronavirus, to economic hardship, to concerns over racial justice and inequality, to deep political divisions – that we have nearly run out of words to describe the events of 2020. “Unprecedented,” “Challenging” and “Turbulent” are just some of the adjectives we used, and over-used, to define a year tainted by uncertainty, suffering and loss.
But there are other, more uplifting, terms that could equally be applied to the efforts of our families, friends, neighbors and colleagues during the past year. Words like “Caring,” “Resilient” and “Heroic.” As we begin a new year, and dare to imagine a post-pandemic world, I hope we can focus on the values we preserved, the positive lessons we learned, and the shared progress we made to address our problems and build a better future.
Lead with responsibility. I often say that leadership isn’t about giving orders, but rather about taking responsibility for people. I’ll cite just a few examples of leadership – and of people and organizations taking responsibility for each other. The NJ Bankers Association, of which I am proud to be a Vice-Chairman, launched a charitable effort that raised over $112,000 for New Jersey’s Pandemic Relief Fund. At OceanFirst, we quickly instituted a payment relief program to help affected borrowers, as did financial institutions across our state and nation. In December, OceanFirst Bank and the OceanFirst Foundation partnered with other local banks and foundations to pledge $265,000 to area hospitals to support vaccination efforts. On an individual level, our employees realized that our local charitable organizations needed our help more than ever and volunteered their time and resources to several non-profits, including Fulfill, a local foodbank, and specifically Operation Warmth, to help make a difference for our neighbors.
Connect in new ways. One of the most important outcomes of the pandemic has been the way it has accelerated investments in digital business. While companies like ours have been expanding our digital capabilities for several years, the need to support remote workplaces and serve customers who couldn’t access a physical branch made mobile and online services essential. COVID-19 will likely have a lasting impact on the way we live, work, learn, shop, and manage our finances, so continued investments in technology and talent will be needed to meet the evolving needs of people and businesses. Here at OceanFirst, we are re-envisioning and upgrading a 6,200-square-foot Customer Care Center as part of the expansion of our headquarters campus in Toms River, NJ, providing a dedicated area to create and nurture our relationships with our customers through interactions by phone, video and chat. We have also built a state of the art and secure incident response center to coordinate the Bank’s efforts to protect our customers from a wide variety of threats, including weather incidents and cybersecurity events. This facility will enhance the collaboration among various Bank operations, security, and information technology staff to protect customer data and ensure resilient operating capabilities.
Invest in growth. Sadly, our nation has lost many businesses and the jobs they provide, particularly in small-to-midsized companies and in hard-hit sectors such as retailing, hospitality and facilities-based entertainment. But other businesses have adapted and are continuing to do so. For those companies with vision – and the capital to support it – now would be a good time to be thinking about the future. Managements should be asking important questions. Which of our services, products and solutions will be most relevant to our customers in a post-pandemic economy? What is the best business model for delivering our offerings to the marketplace? What investments, especially in people and technology, will we need to write the next chapter for our business? And, how should we embrace the larger needs of society – such as economic and social equality, environmental stewardship, and responsible corporate governance – so we can align our purpose and performance? Well positioned businesses should make plans and begin investing now for the post-pandemic future; it will arrive faster than many think.
Admittedly, it’s hard to think about investing in growth and change when we still face uncertainties related to the challenges of the vaccine rollout, the policies of a new administration in Washington, or the social and political scars that still require healing. But, for those organizations that are able and willing to invest in the future, 2021 and beyond will be defined by a different set of words – like “Visionary,” “Bold” and “Inspiring.”