We asked our President & CEO, Darryl Fess, to answer a few questions about what he believes will impact businesses and the economy in Greater Boston, including the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic, remote work environment, changes in banking sector, horizons for commercial real estate, Brookline Bank's 150th Anniversary.
There are two ways to partake in Darryl's Outlook; a live interview with Hugh Drummond on OA On Air or below the interview via Q&A text version:
Q: 2020 has been dominated by the Coronavirus Pandemic and the country’s response to it. The pandemic will certainly figure into the impact on the national and local economy during the next year. Now that vaccines are becoming available, we know it will take time to fully roll out. How do you see the pandemic affecting the economy locally next year??
A: With a successful vaccination effort, our economy should begin to rebound. It won’t happen immediately, but the new stimulus package includes a second round of PPP funding, which will hopefully be enough to assist our most affected businesses’ to the point where they can once again generate income and be self-sustaining if not the thriving businesses they were pre-pandemic. Boston has always had a well-balanced economy with technology, biotech, education, and medical sectors. If the students return in full force this fall, we will be well along the way to recovery.
Q: One of the questions we asked you last year was about companies that were pushing for remote work environments to help with recruitment and retention, as well as to help reduce real estate and infrastructure costs. The pandemic has really changed the way we work and the way we think about work. Do you see that continuing?
A: The pandemic has accelerated the “work from home” trend and in many respects shows us that yes, it can be done. Something is missing though, the personal, spontaneous interactions, conversations between colleagues, the non-verbal physical cues we send each other is lacking. I believe it’s important that people spend some in-person time together to reinforce teamwork and interpersonal relationships. Those are key to a successful collaborative culture in any business. In the end, there will be more flexible work schedules with a hybrid approach to in-person and virtual work environments. .
Q: What changes implemented by the banking sector in response to the pandemic are likely to become permanent?
A: We saw people embrace technology. With a little training, more people used remote deposit and checked their accounts online. Call centers became even more important as a channel to service our clients. With a planned rollout of a new digital banking platform this spring, and a best in class online opening system shortly thereafter, our clients will continue to gravitate to the internet for products and services. Branches will remain an important role as service centers and as a marketing presence.
Q: What is on the horizon for commercial real estate as the demand for traditional office space has gone down?
A: Industrial and distribution space will be in high demand for the foreseeable future. When it comes to office and retail, my crystal ball has some clouds in it. A lot of it depends on how businesses embrace remote working. Will they go remote completely, or institute a hybrid system? Many companies will need space for fewer people but will likely need more space per square foot per worker to encourage physical distancing. Urban retail will likely be reliant upon the office markets. If people come back to the towers, restaurants and shops will flourish and people will gravitate to the city once again.
Q: Brookline Bank is reaching a significant milestone this year. Tell us about that.
A: Brookline Bank is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. As an institution founded to provide the people of Brookline with a strong and convenient bank, we still operate under that basic premise by maintaining a strong balance sheet with a mission to make things easy for our clients in greater Boston. We will celebrate the occasion with the publication of a book that highlights the last 50 years. This book supplements a book published in 1971 documenting the first 100 years of Brookline Bank. It’s interesting to note that almost 50 years into existence, the bank weathered a pandemic – the 1918 flu. It barely was mentioned in the original tome, because, like the one we endured today, it will pass and be just a blip in the history book.