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Proud to work here: Meet the Best Workplaces shaking the stigma of finance

March 25, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC

A huge boost in employee experience scores within Nationwide this past year has a lot to do with what staffers saw outside the company’s walls.

They saw Nationwide walk its talk of being “on your side”—in this case, the side of communities hit hard by COVID and racial injustice.

They saw the mutual insurance company contribute millions of dollars to the Red Cross and other COVID relief efforts. They saw the organization donate millions more to groups working on racial equity and fair housing. They saw it launch a task force—composed of employees at every level—to enable the company to push for a better, more inclusive America.

A dramatic gain of 10 percentage points on the Great Place to Work Trust Index™ employee survey in 2020 was partly about the company living up to its mission and values in a difficult year, says Gale King, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Nationwide. She points to how Nationwide responded to the killing of George Floyd in May, with actions that included a “unity day” of conversations on race and a series of talks from prominent civil rights leaders representing perspectives across government, academia, and community-based organizations.

“Our associates believed we would do the right thing,” King says. “And we lived into it.”

Given its extensive work to give back to the community and take a meaningful stand for racial equity, it’s not surprising Nationwide earned a place on this year’s list of the Fortune Best Workplaces for Financial Services and Insurance. In general, what companies on this list did in 2020 upended the stereotype of greedy, heartless financial services firms. The Best were generous corporate citizens amid a year of multiple crises, deepening employees’ sense of purpose and commitment.

In effect, the promise of a six-figure salary alone doesn’t cut it anymore. Employees today want to know they are making a difference, which comes from the belief that they are contributing to society. In Great Place to Work’s analysis of the Best Workplaces in Financial Services and Insurance, record jumps in employee experience scores are directly linked to how employees witnessed their company give back during the crises of 2020.

Rocket Companies took the top spot in the large-company category of the Best Workplaces in Financial Services and Insurance. It was followed by Capital One and American Express. Among small and medium-sized companies, personal finance company NerdWallet ranked first, followed by online mortgage provider and mortgage lender Evergreen Home Loans.

What’s in its wallet? Capital One gives back to the community

Credit card provider and financial services firm Capital One stood out in 2020 for putting its money where its mouth—and mission—is. Capital One says it’s “on a mission to change banking for good,” and employees rallied around the company’s extensive support of communities last year.

In March, for example, the company announced a $50 million donation to long-standing non-profit partners struggling to pursue their core missions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, the company launched the Capital One Impact Initiative—a $200 million multi-year commitment to spur economic growth in low- and moderate-income communities and close gaps in equity and opportunity.

Amid these philanthropic gifts, employees repeatedly used the word “community” in their survey responses when telling Great Place to Work what makes Capital One’s culture great.

Meghan Welch, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Office at Capital One, says all the giving back boosted pride among employees, who also stepped up their community service.

Meghan Welch, Executive Vice President of Human Resources & Chief Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging Officer at Capital One.
Courtesy of Capital One

“Our associates’ sense of purpose grew as we reimagined how we served customers at a time when our communities were feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn due to job loss and the global call for racial justice,” Welch says.

“As our teams worked hard to keep our communities safe, we were heartened to see associates, contractors and partners come together to take swift action to help others. Whether that be through making donations to homeless shelters or our work to bridge the digital access gap and provide laptops for children, our associates plugged into their communities to create a positive impact.”

Another reason Capital One’s nearly 52,000 employees felt free to volunteer their money and time is that the company increased their financial security amid the economic downturn of 2020. Capital One paid all hourly associates their regular pay regardless of the number of hours they worked. And it increased base pay for staff by $10/hour for Branch and “Capital One Café” employees and $5/hour for Call Center employees.

All told, the company provided front-line employees more than $50 million in additional compensation in 2020.

“Capital One’s long-standing culture, values, and policies led us to do whatever we could to take care of our associates,” Welch says.

Nationwide employees have each others’ backs

It was a similar story of employee support at Nationwide in 2020. For one thing, the company made sure employees felt physically safe early in the pandemic. In just over a week, 98 percent of Nationwide’s 28,000 associates transitioned to working from home. Nationwide also launched a pandemic leave policy, which grants an additional four weeks of fully paid time off to associates who could not perform their work from home, were affected by a COVID-19 illness or needed to care for loved ones.

What’s more, Nationwide executives stepped up when asked to contribute to the company’s “Associates Helping Associates” program, which provides funds to Nationwiders experiencing financial hardships related to life events—including the pandemic. Senior leaders chipped in roughly $75,000 to help fellow employees in need. 

The company also supported employees’ mental health. King, for example, sent a weekly communication to all employees on Fridays that shared information about the pandemic and shared resources on topics such as self-care and resilience.

Kirt Walker, CEO of Nationwide, says all these efforts were in keeping with the company’s mission statement, refreshed in 2019: “to protect people, businesses and futures with extraordinary care.”

Kirt Walker, CEO of Nationwide.
Courtesy of Nationwide

Of 2020, Walker says it was a “double-A” year. “It was awful and it awesome,” he says. “The entire year was challenging, and I’m pretty proud of how we managed through it.”

So are Nationwide’s employees. As part of the 10 point increase in overall employee trust levels—to 92—scores for the statement “I feel good about how we contribute to the community” rose 4 percent, to 95.

Nationwide gives back and stands up for social justice

That pride had much to do with Nationwide’s big-hearted, nation-wide response to the COVID crisis. The company’s foundation provided $5 million in grants to support the American Red Cross, Feeding America, United Way, and local organizations.

As the economy cratered thanks to COVID, Nationwide also looked out for its policyholders. It was one of the first auto insurers to provide relief to customers, with more than 1 million personal auto policyholders receiving a $50 premium refund. 

And in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Nationwide again took action. It committed an additional $1 million to social justice organizations—including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative—and $1 million to the National Fair Housing Alliance.

In response to requests from employees, Nationwide also changed its program for matching employee donations to charities. It widened the pool of eligible matching grants to include organizations focused directly on social justice.

In addition to its “unity day” of inviting conversations about racial injustice, and its program to bring in civil rights speakers, Nationwide formed a Social Justice Task Force that is exploring ways for the company to contribute to a more equitable America.

Amid all these efforts, the experience of Black employees at Nationwide improved markedly in 2020. Trust Index scores for Black employees rose 9 percentage points, such that 92% of Black employees now say it’s a great place to work. For comparison, at the average U.S. workplace, just 49% of employees across demographic groups say theirs is a great place to work.  Nationwide’s Black employee scores on the question of whether “my work has special meaning” rose a remarkable 16 points, to 90%.

King says the increases reflect the way Nationwide amplified its longstanding commitments on issues of racial justice “They didn’t see many of their peers’ companies doing what we did,” King says. “We accelerated our work in support of social justice, building on a foundation that has existed for decades.”

Simply put, Nationwide was putting its beliefs into action, Walker says.

“We value people,” he says. “This is who we’ve always been.”

See the full lists:
The 40 Best Large Workplaces in Financial Services and Insurance
The 40 Best Small and Medium Workplaces in Financial Services and Insurance

For information from Great Place to Work on how great workplace cultures are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic impacts, click here

Claire Hastwell is content marketing manager at Great Place to Work.