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Apr 29, 2020

The doctor is in and helping Bank of Montreal on post-virus plan

Banks working to 'bridge the time between now and reopening' of businesses: BMO executive


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There’s a doctor in the house, and Bank of Montreal is turning to him as it develops a post-pandemic plan.

Dominik Nowak, 28, joined last month as the Canadian bank’s chief medical adviser to help with COVID-19 outbreak. He’s been guiding executives on how to weather the crisis while dispensing advice on social distancing, working from home and protecting tellers from the highly contagious virus. With the pandemic peaking and companies mulling next steps, Bank of Montreal is relying on him and his team for their medical expertise.

“Our job is far from over,” Nowak said in an interview. “BMO’s plan-ahead strategy throughout the organization will really have to be driven through a medical lens, just as we drove the initial pandemic strategy.”

Canada’s big banks have turned to outside medical experts throughout the crisis to help guide company strategy in an area far beyond the financial issues they’re accustomed to tackling. Royal Bank of Canada, for example, has been using a consultant as its chief medical director, and Toronto-Dominion Bank relies on an outsider for its chief medical officer role.

Bank of Montreal, meanwhile, is leaning on Nowak, who’s had his own family practice in Toronto for almost two years and is a faculty member at the University of Toronto and at McMaster University, where he received his medical degree in 2016.

The consultant is helping senior Bank of Montreal executives navigate what he calls “uncharted waters” in drafting a strategy to return to normalcy while following public health directives. “There’s so much uncertainty,” Nowak said. “Right now we’re thinking through how the world could be in that three-, six-, 12-, 24-month period -- and several years down the line -- and thinking through what it would take to keep people safe during that time.”

‘Ask Me Anything’

As part of his work with the bank, Nowak assembled a core group of five medical experts in areas such as infectious diseases and occupational and mental health, and established a network of other professionals for additional support as needed. He helped distill key medical information to executives and employees while holding “Ask Me Anything” conference calls several times a week for 400 senior leaders and 15,000 other employees.

Support has also been provided through a virtual health-care service that 8,500 Canadian employees, or a quarter of Bank of Montreal’s staff, downloaded onto their phones and computers in the first month it was available.

Nowak also advised the lender on adding plexiglass barriers, social-distancing markers and other traffic controls at bank branches, hand hygiene and sanitizing products, and the use of masks and face shields for employees interacting with clients.


“Having a doctor at our fingertips, so to speak, really helps us to make medically based, evidence-based decisions,” said Karen Collins, a senior executive in the bank’s human-resources department.

Nowak’s influence may extend to how the bank’s workforce evolves in the future: Some employees have embraced the flexibility of working from home, and would like to see the option remain after the pandemic is over.

“We will gradually bring some people back to work, but it will never get back to 100% of people back in the office,” Collins said. “That’s something Dr. Nowak and other medical advisers will continue to guide us on.”