Two years after HB2 repeal, Credit Suisse continues its investment in RTP

In the spring of 2017, Credit Suisse was one of the many businesses putting pressure on the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal the controversial House Bill 2, more well known as the “bathroom bill.”

Without a repeal, the Swiss banking giant said, it would not expand its presence in Research Triangle Park, potentially cutting off millions of dollars in investment and more than 1,000 new jobs for the region.

The move — along with the work of activists and other advocacy groups — pushed along a compromise bill that took HB2 off the state books.

The law, whose backlash the Associated Press estimated cost the state nearly $4 billion, prohibited local governments from enacting anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people and required people in government facilities to use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates.

Now, a little more than two years later, Credit Suisse on Thursday officially opened a new office in RTP, one complete with a “pride” flag waving at the entrance and a gender-neutral bathroom on every floor.

The building is part of a $100 million investment in Wake County that will help it add an eventual 1,200 new jobs to the area.

Credit Suisse flew a pride flag at the entrance of its campus during the grand opening of its new office building in Research Triangle Park on June 27, 2019. Zachery Eanes

A gender-neutral bathroom inside Credit Suisse’s new office building in Research Triangle Park. Zachery Eanes

Already, in the past two years, the bank has added more than 500 new positions to its Raleigh office, where roughly half the jobs are technology related. The firm now has a little more than 2,000 employees in RTP.

The bank will receive $40.2 million in state incentives if it meets its hiring and investment targets. It has already met its investment requirement, which was $70 million. Its workforce must grow to 2,700.

Sophia Wajnert, head of Credit Suisse’s Raleigh office, said HB2 was a great example of the sort of influence the company could have in the Triangle.

Credit Suisse first established a presence in the Triangle in 2005, making it the first major financial services firm with headquarters elsewhere to become a major local employer. It blazed a trail that Deutsche Bank, Fidelity Investments and MetLife followed, The News & Observer previously reported.

The new office building that Swiss bank Credit Suisse built in Research Triangle Park had its grand opening on June 27, 2019. Zachery Eanes

“The existence of (HB2) as a state law at the time was inhibiting our commitment to grow here,” Wajnert said in an interview. “That’s because we are committed to diversity, we are committed to inclusion. It is part of everything we do. And the idea of us growing and committing to a state that had a law in place that didn’t concur with our values was challenging for us.”

She added that the company is prepared to be vocal about issues in the future as well.

“That is the role we are going to continue to play,” she said. “Where there are items that we feel strongly about, or feel strongly for our employees about, we will continue to take a stand.”

In addition to gender-neutral bathrooms, the company has made moves to make its offices more friendly to mothers as well — each floor also has a lactation room. The company also has a program that allows people who have been away from the workforce for an extended period of time an opportunity to restart a career, though it is not specifically targeted toward mothers.

“Oftentimes they are people that have taken time to stay at home to be a mom or dad, or take care of an elder parent, Wajnert said. “There are a lot of reasons.”

Credit Suisse does all this because, in an economy where the unemployment rate is at decade lows, the competition for talent has become especially fierce.

“It is not easy because there is a wonderfully low unemployment rate here,” she said. “In addition to that, we have the challenge that we are ... in a location that is not specifically a financial services market.”

What that means, Wajnert said, is that Credit Suisse has to be keep up strong relationships with the local universities that are turning out nearby talent as well as looking for people that have the aptitude to learn new skills. The company has to be able to “bring them on and then train them,” she added.

This is in part why the office has such a tech-heavy presence. Around half of its employees aren’t working in traditional banking roles, but in information technology, data and analytics, cyber security, artificial intelligence and other areas.

For example, the Raleigh office recently helped automate some of the company’s cyber security, creating faster response times across its global operation.

It’s also created an artificial intelligence platform that provides real-time technical support for employees.

“Fifty percent of our roles are tech specific, but Credit Suisse Raleigh ... (is) impacting the rest of our global operations,” Wajnert said.

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.