The branches can keep their trees.
Acceding to the wishes of employees, Bank of America Corp. has reversed a policy barring Christmas trees from branch lobbies, just in time for the holiday.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based company said it meant well when it barred evergreens from its branches. Even so, it upset some employees in its 4,500 branch network with a memo, issued in October, that declared poinsettias as the only decoration approved for use in branches.
Christmas trees and all other decorations "are not to be displayed in banking centers or in-store environments," the memo stated. "So this is a good opportunity to donate any holiday decorations currently in storage to local area families or organizations."
The memo said the change was adopted "to be sensitive to the diversity of customers and coworkers across the nation, as well as to create a consistent look, tone, and feel across the franchise."
Ellison Cleary, a spokesman for the $621 billion-asset company, said the memo prompted a number of calls from employees "disappointed or confused" about the policy. After hearing their response, the company decided to permit Christmas trees, and leave decorating decisions to the branch managers.
"The thought was that poinsettias were more inclusive, more of a universal holiday symbol," he explained. "What we were trying to say was that poinsettias were a good idea, but they weren't the only good idea."
He also pointed out that Bank of America uses trees to decorate the lobby of its Charlotte headquarters building each year. "Our banking centers can use trees, and, in fact, many are," he said.
A member of one of the communities that Bank of America may have had in mind was appreciative of the effort but said that the policy probably went too far. Richard Foltin, legislative director at the American Jewish Committee in Washington, said that he personally distinguishes Christmas trees from more overtly religious decorations, such as Nativity scenes.
"It is admirable that they are trying to be sensitive," he said. "But I think most in the Jewish community have come to recognize that there are certain markers of the season that, although not pertaining to a holiday we celebrate, are more secular than others."
Forest D. Montgomery of the National Association of Evangelicals in Washington agreed.
"I can't imagine that even 1% of Americans take offense to Christmas trees," he said. "I think we should all try to lighten up and enjoy the holidays."
If only it were that simple.
Janet Eissenstat, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association, said it is not uncommon for banks to try to establish a consistent decor across their entire franchise, be it for Christmas or any other time. That is especially true at Bank of America, which recently introduced a new corporate logo and corporate colors.
And companies from all industries these days are sensitive to what message they display in their lobbies, she added.
"I think all retailers, be it banks or clothing stores, attempt to decorate their public spaces in such a way that will reflect positively on customers and employees," Ms. Eissenstat said. "A reasonable strategy is to implement clear and simple rules for employees to follow."
By returning control to the branch managers, Bank of America has adopted a holiday policy similar to that of some competitors. First Union Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc. said they rely on managers to adorn offices as they see fit.
"The bounds of good taste are the only guidelines," a spokesman for SunTrust said.