Upholding ‘community’ in community banks

Banks respond to a variety of needs amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Tiffany Young

Since COVID-19 hit the U.S. in January, an estimated 6.86 million people have filed for unemployment. Many banks have stepped up to support the financial needs of individuals and businesses in their communities, going above and beyond to help their customers during this unprecedented time. Banks, which have been deemed essential businesses even as most people are required to shelter in place, have remained open for their customers, whether that be small businesses or individuals who need to pay bills. And while bankers aren’t immune to the virus and its effects, they are putting in measures to be available to their customers, whether that means putting in extra hours to allow for more social distancing while banking or putting in extra protective measures for their employees and customers. But they’re also finding caring ways to help out in and around their community.

Bags of Blessings

Micah Boles, president of First National Bank of Bosque County, said that even though they had not had any COVID-19 cases in Bosque County as of yet, the bank sent out a letter letting customers know they would work with them on their loans, if needed. The bank has deferred all loan payments to customers who have asked as well as waived all ATM fees.

“That’s where a community bank really differentiates itself from others by being able to reach out directly to customers and react to a customer’s needs at a moment’s notice,” Boles said.

So far, he says local restaurants and individuals who have lost their jobs have been the most impacted in their community.

One way his staff has supported the community is in providing families with food through the local school district, Valley Mills Independent School District. Bags of Blessings is a program providing bags of groceries for families in need through the elementary school. First National Bank of Bosque County employees purchase food from Sam’s Club and then pack bags of groceries and drop them off at the school. The bags are then distributed by the school to the families identified as needing them. Each bag holds enough food to last a family a few days. About 40 bags have been distributed weekly, which is in addition to the school district providing free lunches to students.

Additionally, the bank has been working with a local distillery company that has been able to pivot its business by selling hand sanitizer and is donating hand sanitizer to a local hospital, where it is much needed.

Boles said his network of community bankers has been vital during this time by learning how others are responding to community needs. Keeping lines of communications open with each other and the community is very important during this time.

Can’t Mask Local Bank’s Outreach

With closed lobbies and slowed business, employees at Alvord and Cooper Branches of Legend Bank make masks for healthcare workers and customers.

Legend Bank, with 13 locations in North Texas, has let their branches lead the way in supporting their communities. Its branch in Alvord decided that during slow times, while lobbies are closed, they would start sewing masks and provide them to healthcare workers.

Legend Bank President Mickey Faulconer said his first thought was, “What? Employees are going to be sewing on company time?” but he quickly realized what a kind thing it was for them to be doing and now the branches in Cooper and Nocona are making masks for bank employees and customers who need them.

So far, Alvord has provided more than 120 masks for the healthcare workers at Wise Health System, the hospital system in Decatur, in addition to providing snack baskets and drinks. The branch’s staff has also continued delivering meals to elderly citizens in the community via Meals on Wheels, and a local grocery store is allowing the bankers to add necessities to their meal deliveries, such as toilet paper, to provide to seniors who are homebound as well.

With closed lobbies and slowed business, employees at Alvord and Cooper Branches of Legend Bank make masks for healthcare workers and customers.

Its Cooper branch donated $500 to a local volunteer fire department, $150 of which came directly from employees who participated in the bank’s “Sneakers for Support” program that allows employees to wear sneakers or jeans for a small donation. In Whitesboro, the bank provided pizza to the Whitesboro ISD staff and Chief Lending Officer Jeff Brooks worked with other community members to pack meals for more than 1,000 students. And in Sherman, they are working to provide lunch to ER nurses at Texoma Medical Center from one of their customers, Culver’s.

“It’s like a lot of great things that have happened at Legend Bank — some of the coolest things have been something the employees come up with themselves and then it just takes off,” Faulconer said.

The bank, which recently celebrated its 130th anniversary, is taking additional measures to ensure it is able to continue meeting customers’ needs by having split shifts for its staff, with the staff members working with the same people throughout their shifts. In the case that a staff member contracted COVID-19 on one shift, anyone who worked on that shift could be quarantined for 14 days, while the other staff members keep the bank open. The staff also began wearing masks and gloves while working. Management was concerned about how customers might react to the change, but they’ve been getting a lot of compliments from customers for keeping their safety in mind.

“Everyone is under a lot of stress these days, but I think people are relieved we’re being the same business we’ve always been,” Faulconer said. “We’re a community bank and the word community is what it’s all about. Without the community that community banks operate in, we would not be the country that we are today. We know who our customers are and who our local businesses are. Part of our business is just trying to be a nice person and that’s just what this is all about.”

Feeding the Economy Through Local Support

First Financial Bank has been supporting its community by providing lunch to its entire staff daily, ordering from local customers who own restaurants.

During this time, First Financial Bank is doing its part to keep the Texas economy strong, using the slogan, “Texas Strong” in all of its messaging and advertising.

Chairman of the Board and CEO Scott Dueser said the bank does not plan on locking its doors, wanting to make sure customers can access the bank whenever they need it.

While they have had to close some branches, where employees have tested positive for COVID-19, they were able to quarantine, disinfect and keep the drive-thrus open with the help of staff who were willing to commute from nearby towns.

The bank has been supporting its community by providing lunch to its entire staff daily, ordering from local customers who own restaurants.

“We’ve had owners cry when we’ve called and let them know we were ordering lunch for our whole staff because they said they needed the business so badly,” Dueser said.

Additionally, the bank is ensuring workers get the treatment they need if they’re infected by COVID-19 by making testing and treatment free to all employees.

“I want our people to know they’re going to be taken care of,” he said.

The bank is also supporting and encouraging others to continue supporting nonprofits during this time — many of which are not able to host events that bring in the money that helps support their programs.

A Yellow Beacon of Light

FirstCapital Bank of Texas display yellow pinwheels on the lawn of all of its Amarillo branches to show support for local healthcare workers.

At FirstCapital Bank of Texas in Amarillo, the motto is, “We are family. We serve people. We change lives.”

“Through this crisis, we have tried to express those same thoughts to our customers, too — we’re family and we’re here to serve them,” said FCB VP/Marketing Manager Hazel Morrison. “One way we have gone above and beyond to help our customers is by personally calling them to see how they are doing and asking them if they need anything, whether it be help with their online banking or making sure that they have groceries. We understand that the crisis has changed not only the way we do things internally, but the way our customers bank as well.”

When Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson asked the community during a press conference to tie yellow ribbons on trees and outside of their homes and businesses to show support for local healthcare workers, the bank decided to display yellow pinwheels on the lawn of all of its Amarillo branches. They couldn’t find ribbon so the yellow pinwheels represented hope to all who passed and showed their support for those on the frontline.

“We want our community to know that we’re here to support them — through the good and the bad, we’re all in this together,” Morrison said. “They’ve responded very positively, even thanking us for showing support. Amarillo is a very community-oriented town, so showing support even through this small way, means a lot to our neighbors.”

And it’s not just the pinwheels that are giving healthcare workers hope, but also the meals the bank is providing to them.

To help healthcare workers in its Midland market, FCB has partnered with a local restaurant to provide free meals to the associates at Midland Memorial Hospital.

“We’re thankful for the opportunity to not only say thank you to the healthcare professionals at MMH, but also for the opportunity to support one of our locally owned small businesses during this challenging time,” Morrison said. “In addition, we are in the process of coordinating lunches for our branch staff, which are going to be purchased at local restaurants. Like many banks, we are participating in the SBA Paycheck Protection Program; however, it’s important to us to show our support in other ways as well. Buying take-out from locally owned restaurants is one more way for us to support the small businesses in our communities.”

Online and Ongoing Support

These are just a handful of ways Texas banks have been showing up for their communities during this crisis. Scrolling through banks’ social media feeds displays the wide variety of support they have shown during this time — whether that be informing their customers how to avoid being victims of fraud, supporting small businesses such as restaurants, donating to nonprofits or providing meals to families in need — banks continue to show up, to stay open and to support the communities in a way that truly puts the word “community” in community bank.

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