In the atrium of BMO’s historic Main Branch on Place d’Armes in Montreal stands a tall, somber statue of a woman who has stood vigil since 1923. Her name is Victory. The inscription on her pedestal reads: “to the memory of our men who fell in the great war.” On the wall to her left are polished brass letters spelling the names of employees killed in both world wars: individual sacrifices set in our collective memory. In each war, roughly a quarter of all BMO employees enlisted. This scene is especially striking in this season of remembrance. The atrium reminds us why Remembrance Day needs to be celebrated. For me, it is a reminder of how both institutions and individuals across society played their part when duty called. In today’s society when “instant everything” is valued it is important to pause and reflect on the threads of the past.
BMO’s relationship with the Canadian Defence Community (CDC) is a remarkable and longstanding one. Since 2008, the bank has been the official bank of the CDC. But the connection runs like a thread extending from the Bank’s founding in 1817 to the present. Since then, the relationship has been most deeply forged in wartime. It has been extended and strengthened in the military service of thousands of BMO bankers, 527 of whom were killed or wounded in both world wars. The relationship has also been underwritten by financial support, with the Bank and its people raising many millions for war efforts and countless donations.
Of course, times have changed. Yet, there are connections that bridge yesterday and today. Our duty to remember. The debt we both owe to those who fight and their families. Thinking about what comes after military service.
Today, Remembrance also means channeling our collective and individual efforts to helping the million-person-strong Canadian Defence Community – our CDC. There are many ways, and Canada’s businesses have an obligation to help.
Financial services providers, for instance, can take the unique needs of military personnel into account – members of the CDC move often; banks can help with mortgages and ease of account transfers. Companies can reach out to military spouses by providing employment opportunities that can follow them through different postings. When military members depart service or join the reserve, employers can set aside assumptions about their skills and remember that our soldiers include experts in data analytics, cyber security, procurement and leadership – valuable talents for all kinds of roles in the economy.
BMO has sought to do this; the bank works closely with the chain of command and the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services to provide knowledge-based advice and insights to CDC customers at every life stage. As the official bank of the CDC, BMO has established a Veterans Advisory Council Enterprise Resource Group to support employees who are reservists, veterans or military spouses, and also includes employees who are allies of these individuals. This group provides support and strategic guidance right across the enterprise whenever we look at diversity, inclusion, talent acquisition, mentorship, training and retention. BMO also aspires to be an employer of choice for the CDC in many ways including active military recruitment, and continuously managing and nurturing job seekers through the recruitment process.
These are initiatives that all companies can and should consider if we are to unlock the experience and potential of a group of women and men who have proven themselves, often in the most demanding conditions imaginable. Inclusion demands that we as leaders think creatively to eliminate barriers for those who serve or have served.
This year marks the centenary of Remembrance Day itself. The challenges of the Generation of 2019 are very different. The generations are united, however, in the debt they each owe to those to serve and their families. This is how we can respond to the challenge of Remembrance in our own day: to honour those who served. Through targeted policies and initiatives, finding a way that honours their service, reaffirms their dignity, and provides new opportunities for our soldiers and their families. That, ultimately, is where our duty leads.
By Mona Malone, Chief Human Resources Officer and Head, People and Culture, BMO Financial Group