Banking

With canoes paddling by her house, Bank of America exec helps lead Houston recovery

Dowtown Houston is reflected in flooded Buffalo Bayou on Wednesday, as the city continues to recover from record flooding caused by Harvey. The Bank of America Center at 700 Louisiana Street is the tiered building on the left.
Dowtown Houston is reflected in flooded Buffalo Bayou on Wednesday, as the city continues to recover from record flooding caused by Harvey. The Bank of America Center at 700 Louisiana Street is the tiered building on the left. AP

With flood waters surrounding her neighborhood, Hong Ogle, Bank of America’s Houston market president, hasn’t been able to leave her house since Hurricane Harvey hit.

But that hasn’t stopped her from leading the Charlotte-based bank’s efforts to recover from the devastating storm – with lots of help from other local executives, colleagues from around the country and even a Merrill Lynch financial adviser who has used his boat to aid stranded residents.

Ogle’s team in Houston has spent the week checking in on employees with an automated phone service, assessing damage to branches where possible and taking steps to automatically waive fees for customers in affected areas. The bank’s various leaders are holding twice-a-day conference calls to gather updates.

As the bank works through these challenges, Ogle says she has been inundated with calls, texts and emails from her Bank of America peers.

“It has been an amazing outpouring of support,” said the Beijing native who has been market president since 2014. A veteran financial adviser, Ogle also serves as head of enterprise adviser development for Merrill Lynch, Bank of America’s brokerage arm.

Texas has long been an important state for Bank of America, dating to a key acquisition by predecessor NCNB in 1988. It’s the state’s No. 2 bank by deposits and has 5,700 employees in the territory struck by Harvey.

Once the storm started, the bank began using an automated email and phone system to check on its workers. If they responded that they needed help, they would get a call back for further assistance.

Hong Ogle Headshot
Hong Ogle, Bank of America’s Houston market president. Courtesy of Bank of America

“As of now, most of the employees are accounted for,” Ogle said, noting some may be without power or not currently living in their homes.

Still, she has received numerous accounts of employees facing life-threatening situations, including water in their homes and worries about food and water running out.

“There are lots and lots of these kinds of stories,” she said. “It’s a lot of devastating situations.”

The bank is looking to bring in supplies such as water for employees once roads become accessible. Personally, Ogle, who lives in a Houston suburb, said she hasn’t been able to leave her house, but says her family was lucky. She has seen canoes paddling down her flooded street, but the water stopped at her door.

Bank of America has 119 financial centers in the greater Houston area, but only four in further-out locations were able to open on Wednesday.

“The No. 1 consideration is to keep our associates safe,” said Ogle, who is married with two college-age children. “Most of the roads really weren’t accessible until (Wednesday). Many of these locations are flooded or without power.”

The bank is assessing the locations and could open some as early as Thursday. The bank also has 444 ATMs in the area – many of which are working – and the ability to bring in mobile machines. “We are very much mindful of the needs of our customers,” Ogle said.

The bank’s main office building in downtown Houston also remains closed, like many other office towers.

“I haven’t been back, obviously,” said Ogle. “I saw some footage. It’s not recognizable. It is really bad.”

Harvey (1)
People line up to go into a Lowe’s home improvement store as as they tried to gather supplies after rains and floods from Tropical Storm Harvey started to subside Wednesday in Atascocita, Texas. Karen Warren AP

Meanwhile, Bank of America is taking other steps to aid the recovery. It has donated $1 million to the effort and is matching employee contributions, which now exceed $340,000. It plans to eventually organize volunteer efforts, although some workers have already taken steps on their own. A group of investment bankers, for example, has been using boats to help with rescues.

As the nation’s No. 2 bank by deposits, with more than 4,500 branches coast to coast, Bank of America has had plenty of experience with hurricanes and other natural disasters over the years. With Harvey, it has been able to turn to a well-worn playbook.

“Everybody is so cool and calm,” Ogle said of the team on the daily conference calls. “They had thought it through and are so well prepared.”

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker

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