Community bankers: The unsung heroes of 2020
This is the last column that I will be writing as chairman of the Texas Bankers Association. Serving in this role has been an honor and privilege I will cherish for the rest of my life. On June 1, for the first time in the history of TBA, I will pass the gavel to Chip Jenkins, CEO of The First State Bank, Louise, virtually. Never, in my wildest dreams, could I have envisioned that my term would end while the country and the world are in a lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been so much tragedy associated with the Coronavirus, as evidenced by daily newscasts broadcasting death and infection numbers. As I write this article, the nation and Texas are formulating plans for reopening the economy and, for the first time in what seems like an eternity, we perhaps see a bud of hope springing up on the horizon.
The pandemic, despite its doom and gloom, has had some inspirational moments, including showing us the faces of heroes, who are risking their lives to save others. In social media and in the news, we have seen the faces of health care workers, grocery store clerks, drivers (truck, bus, air), farmers, construction workers, etc.
My focus this month, however, is on the faces of a group of largely unsung heroes. They are the faces of essential workers that have been on the frontlines working day and night, seven days a week to keep families and small businesses afloat. Bankers have played a critical role over the past few months and will continue to play a vital role as our economy recovers.
All across our great state, bank branches have remained open and operational with bankers helping customers and giving each Texan the confidence that our state’s banks were strong and determined in our resolve to assist them. Never has that determination been on a fuller display than since April 3. The hard work that our community bankers are doing all across Texas through the Paycheck Protection Program is providing America’s small businesses, their employees and their families with the economic equivalent of what health care professionals are doing for individuals who have contracted COVID-19.
Our banks are helping small businesses obtain critical cash, the very lifeblood that they need, to regain their strength and make a comeback from the crippling economic effects of COVID-19.
As I’ve encountered the numerous heart-warming stories from small businesses and individuals that bankers have helped, my eyes have been filled with tears and my heart with warmth in knowing that this is why over 38 years ago I became a community banker. From helping ensure a disabled and recently unemployed individual with no car receives her stimulus payment in a timely manner to helping small businesses with a PPP loan and hearing “thank you for saving our restaurant,” the long hours fade away in knowing we’ve had an impact and changed lives.
Bankers, you and I and our industry have so much to be proud of! Doing what needed to be done for customers and small business has been no easy feat. From enduring the Treasury sending 80 million stimulus payments to customers all on the same day, to an SBA Payment Protection Program filled with uncertainty and unanswered questions since the day of its launch, we have risen up and done everything we could to help customers and small businesses.
Our industry has led the way in helping business and retail customers in so many ways that include waiving fees, deferring payments and offering low-rate and zero-rate loans — just to name a few.
Additionally, many banks across our state have made generous donations to community organizations that are providing support in response to the pandemic. Others are helping in different ways, as you can read in our feature article on page 16.
By being essential workers, our bankers have served and continue to serve on the frontlines, providing customers with vital banking services while also providing everyone with a sense of strength and hope that things will again be normal.
We serve an essential role in this country and its economy, as well as in the lives of our customers and families. We are a symbol of strength and stability; customers know and trust us.
While we have all been adversely impacted by this crisis, I know that what we are doing today — everyday — is making a difference in the lives of others. Now, more than ever, I am reminded of the slogan adopted by our former TBA Chairman Wes Hoskins: I’m proud to be a banker!
Strong Banks. Stronger Communities.