We all entered 2020 strong: unemployment was at the lowest level in years; businesses were growing, thriving and profitable; and the stock market was at an all-time high. Your business probably had concrete plans and budgets developed, staff members were ready and eager to serve customers, and you were looking forward to a successful year. What could go wrong?
Then COVID-19 happened. Our world changed; possibly forever in some respects. Since February of 2020, this previously unknown virus spread worldwide and infected hundreds of thousands of Americans, causing the necessary closure of all non-essential businesses. The virus and closures consequently brought the most significant U.S. Federal Government and Federal Reserve Bank monetary response in history, and unfortunately, has also resulted in the public becoming scared and unsure of the future—most for the first time in their lives. What a difference six weeks can make in our lives.
In a mere six weeks, small businesses went from having high hopes for the future to considering if they could even sustain their closure; a strong workforce became unemployed overnight and wondered if they would have jobs to return to when the economy reopened; and many individuals and not-for-profits who had promising investment statements wondered if they would ever be able to recover their losses. We are undoubtedly in uncertain, and unchartered, times. Fortunately, we are the most resilient society in the world, and with the right leadership at all levels of government and business, we will recover and be better prepared to face the future stronger as a result.
Each of us, no matter what we do for a living, what personal situation we bear, or what leadership position we hold, can have an impact on our local economic recovery. The key in any situation is understanding what role you can play, then commit to making an impact. If we have ever been in a situation where we as a society are in need of one another, it is now.
At Standard Bank, we recognized very quickly the challenges we had ahead of us and understood our responsibility. We needed to instantaneously review our pandemic response plan, take action to protect the safety and health of our employees and customers, save some of our small business customers from collapse, and provide payment relief to our residential and commercial loan customers. At the same time, we needed to ensure our customers, despite the lobby doors being closed, could have the exact same access to their deposits, lines of credit, and digital banking platforms. In addition to banking products and services, it was also very important for us to uphold our dedication to an outstanding customer experience.
The good news is, we were able to immediately mobilize, establish teams of associates to address critical initiatives, make quick (yet well-informed) decisions, develop plans to move forward, and relocated some of our associates. Many associates were trained to perform functions outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. In a matter of days, our IT department was able to reposition bank associates to work from home and relocate workstations to alternate locations. Fortunately, we never missed a beat.
In four weeks, our teams were able to make approximately 360 new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to local small businesses totaling $40 million, and modified almost 600 loans for small businesses and individuals who were under financial stress, lost their jobs, or were just struggling with the effects of the pandemic. Our outreach efforts to our customers and willingness to provide advice, guidance, and additional financial assistance was unparalleled.
We were able to help our own customers as well as customers of other local banks who simply could not prioritize their small business customers’ PPP applications. Our associates committed to working expanded hours and night shifts to help every local business we could, regardless if they were an existing customer of the bank. We believe that our actions will set the stage for migrating small business customers back to the community bank where they all should have been served all along. With there being no difference in products, digital platforms, and security from our larger competitors, the barriers have been broken down and our service has proven itself to be superior.
For our deposit customers, we increased ATM, debit card, and mobile deposit limits; doubled the number of personnel assigned to our customer care center; and provided very timely information, links, and applications on our website to assist those individuals who wanted information regarding the bank’s COVID-19 programs.
The testimonials we have received from customers are overwhelming. You will see a few of those presented on the back cover of this magazine.
I just want to end by adding a note that was provided to our associates in our internal newsletter. We value our team and want to publicly thank them (see in our magazine here) for their unparalleled response to COVID-19:
“Yes, you were able to accomplish the impossible. It just proves that with teamwork, dedication and a deep-down desire to help those in need, ANYTHING can be accomplished. This edition of the Standard Bank Internal Update is dedicated to you. Enjoy the read, and most importantly, thank you for all you have done for our customers. This is relationship banking at its best.”
Stay safe and healthy my friends. If you or any of your customers ever need advice from a banker, I welcome a call to myself or any member of my team. I promise you, they will be well taken care of and their needs met. At Standard Bank, we truly do exemplify relationship banking at its best.
President, Standard Bank