BMO found AI, climate change and diversity opportunities in pandemic: CEO

TORONTO — BMO Financial Group’s chief executive says the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed his bank to get more serious about artificial intelligence, diversity and climate change.

BMO spent the first year of the health crisis focused on helping customers facing unprecedented challenges, but Darryl White said Wednesday that it also sought opportunities to “grow the good.”

“We entered 2020 with strong momentum, we adapted quickly to the changing environment, continued making progress throughout the year and came out of it even stronger,” said White, during the bank’s annual general meeting, which was held virtually for the second time.

White attributed some of that strength to artificial intelligence, which he said allowed BMO to model more lending scenarios and access deeper and increasingly sophisticated pools of data.

The technology helped customers make quicker and better decisions as they grappled with layoffs, lower investment rates and mortgage deferral needs.

White and the bank didn’t just see opportunities in AI. The pandemic also delivered chances to increase the bank’s diversity and commitments around climate change.

“Our bank has long believed that sharing the gains of social and economic well-being and that belief has only intensified during the pandemic,” White said.

BMO recently introduced a series of targets aimed at increasing the representation of women, employees with disabilities and workers who are Black, Latino, LGBTQ+ or Indigenous by 2025.

The company pledged to raise the representation of Black employees in senior leadership roles to 3.5 per cent in Canada and 7 per cent in the U.S., increase the number of Indigenous workers to 1.6 per cent across the whole company and maintain a gender equity position between 40 and 60 per cent in senior positions.

In its most recent proxy circular, the bank said women make up 54 per cent of the bank’s employees and about 41 per cent of its senior leadership roles. 

BMO zeroed in on environmental commitments too because of the “urgent” need to address climate change, White said.

“In more and more company boardrooms, climate action is no longer seen as a sustainability pledge,” he said. “It is a business imperative.”

The bank recently committed $300-billion to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2025, endorsed the United Nation’s principles for responsible banking and released a sustainability report with a climate-specific section, he said.

BMO’s AGM also saw the appointment of two new board members, Stephen Dent and Madhu Ranganathan.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Royal Bank of Canada will host AGMs on Thursday while the Bank of Nova Scotia will hold its next week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:BMO)

The Canadian Press

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