U.S. employees of the Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse have another reason to be thankful on this post-holiday Monday. The firm announced today that it will be upping the length of its paid parental leave for primary caregivers to 20 weeks, making it among the longest paid leave benefits to be offered at a major bank.
The new policy, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will allow mothers or fathers who work at the firm to take up t0 20 weeks of paid leave as long as they are the primary caregiver for the child. A similar benefit existed under the current policy, but it only allowed employees to take up to 12 weeks paid and eight weeks unpaid. Under the new benefit, the company also will now pay for an employee's nanny and infant to go along on business trips, and it will add "parental leave coaches" to help staffers and bosses manage the transitions in and out of these longer leave times.
Credit Suisse's policy is one of the longest paid leave policies at a major financial services firm. Many others, however, have also recently boosted the family-oriented benefits they offer in an effort to retain not only women but a generation of workers more interested in sharing parenting responsibilities between mothers and fathers.
Within the last year, for instance, both Goldman Sachs and Citigroup doubled their benefits for "secondary caregivers" to four weeks and two weeks, respectively. Blackstone Group upped its paid maternity leave to 16 weeks, and KKR also began paying for nannies this summer.
Meanwhile, Credit Suisse's move is also a reminder of the ripple effect that the generous policies being offered at Silicon Valley tech companies are having across Corporate America. Some major banks—particularly in an era of relatively smaller bonuses and greater interest by young recruits in working elsewhere—are acknowledging that to compete far outside the canyons of Wall Street for talent, they have to offer more to keep up.
"We recognize that our competition for talent is no longer just with financial services firms," said Elizabeth Donnelly, Credit Suisse's head of benefits for the Americas, in explaining the bank's reasons for the longer paid benefit. In addition to hedge funds, she noted, banks are increasingly competing for talent with technology firms such as Google or Facebook, and need to offer benefits that are on par.
The 20 weeks of paid leave at Credit Suisse is open to birth mothers, adoptive parents, and fathers whose spouse or partner has had a child as long as they are serving as the primary caregiver. That means a father—as long as he doesn't first take the week of paid leave Credit Suisse offers for "secondary caregivers" after the birth of the child—could elect to take up to 20 weeks off after his spouse goes back to work. The benefit can be taken anytime within the first 12 months of the child's life.
Credit Suisse's policy differs from the benefits being offered by tech companies like Spotify or Facebook, which extend the same amount of time to both parents, no matter what role they're serving at home. Credit Suisse still only offers one week of paid leave for parents—typically fathers—who are looking to bond with the child rather than take on solo childcare responsibilities. (They're also eligible to get additional unpaid time off.)
Donnelly said the firm looked at its own employee data and found that "non-primary caregivers did not indicate there was a need to expand that" and that "we really didn’t think it was something we needed to change at this time." The firm's numbers show that about 25 percent of employees using the primary caregiver benefit are dads, and that they take about eight weeks on average.
Of course, one of the challenges Wall Street firms will face in competing with tech firms on generous benefits isn't just offering them. It's creating the kind of culture where it's acceptable to take that much time off to care for a baby, particularly at places that have had to make rules to keep young workers out of the office at least one day each weekend. That's true for women in the industry's traditionally male-dominated work environment, and would seem to be even more so for men, for whom paternity leave continues to hold a taboo.
Donnelly says she hopes the coaching the company is starting to offer employees and their bosses will help. Yet perhaps the biggest boost to changing such cultures will simply be an influx, over time, of both male and female employees who put a premium on value family benefits and flexibility when choosing careers.
"I was surprised by the number of individuals—and these are people just entering the workforce—who wanted to know what our childcare leave policies are," Donnelly said. "It came across loud and clear."