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Community banks are showing their strength amid COVID-19 crisis

Four score and seven years ago, in another time of national crisis, President Franklin Roosevelt said our problems “concern, thank God, only material things.” Today we face a different crisis, the invisible threat of global pandemic. We pray for an effective vaccine for COVID-19 and for the swift recovery of its victims.

As bankers, we also have a duty to safeguard the modern economy and the millions of people who rely upon it — our friends, neighbors and loved ones.

The top priority of our Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers (PACB) family is to protect the health and well-being of our employees, our customers, and every Pennsylvanian. To that end, our members have taken significant safety measures, such as expanded drive-thru banking hours and lanes and assigned tellers to meet the increased demand. In addition to their responsibility to keep customers and employees safe, community banks also are making special arrangements with customers who still depend on personalized banking services.

Community banks have been working around the clock for weeks to implement pandemic protocols, which address not only hygiene and cleanliness, testing procedures and sick leave compensation, but also ensure customers maintain access to vital banking services.

The PACB has been in constant communication with our members, giving them practical advice and access to resources. Our own staff has been working remotely and keeping well-connected and informed.

But our responsibilities do not end there. Every day that our shops, restaurants and small businesses are shut down, families face economic peril. Layoffs rise and incomes decline. Communities are being hit hard. Those who escape the pandemic may still be devastated by economic uncertainty.

Communities, like people, must be kept healthy. I am very proud of the extraordinary flexibility that member banks are extending to their small-business borrowers; for example, by waiving certain fees or modifying repayment plans, due dates, or lengthening lines of credit to ease the pain of temporary layoffs.

Technology has empowered depositors to use our extensive online resources and to move to electronic banking and card-based transactions. We understand that the transition may not be smooth and seamless. Many small-town customers are more comfortable banking in person. But we are eager to help.

The pandemic has been especially hard on the elderly. Many feel isolated as they “self-quarantine.” Their comfort and convenience are our concern. They must have access to banking. It is heartwarming to learn the extent to which our community banks are working to support older Pennsylvanians.

Long before the shutdown, as the crisis began to unfold, we were in contact with federal regulatory agencies. We sought to ensure that we could take bold measures to lessen the pain. In fact, they’ve encouraged it.

Bank examiners understand the need for flexibility. As long as they’re kept informed, they are willing to extend flexibility to community bankers to meet customers’ needs as they see fit. The FDIC backstop remains strong, safeguarding our customers’ savings.

Community banks are taking extraordinary steps in these extraordinary times. But they remain focused on the very personal service that community banks are known for. Every person has their own story and their own needs. We never forget that.

I encourage consumers who have questions to call their local bank directly. The PACB stands ready to act. Working together, as Pennsylvanians, we will get through this crisis, too. We have overcome nature’s worst. Now we’ll show human nature at its best.

Kevin Shivers is President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers based in Harrisburg.

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