Times of financial concern – Part 1 Local financial institutions address COVID-19 pandemic

Published 1:13 am Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The world has been turned on its ear by the COVID-19 pandemic with individuals and families worrying from day to day about simple things that once were taken for granted.
Walking into a store and readily finding plentiful supplies of canned goods and amenities such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer just to name a few.
Then there were mornings of getting up early and grumbling about having to go to work and how they would like to just stay at home and sleep or take care of their responsibilities around the house.
How things have changed in a matter of three months since the beginning of the new year 2020.
Now finding toilet paper is like winning a million-dollar lottery and many people now find themselves stiff from sleeping too much and wondering how they are going to provide for their families since their job has closed its doors or let people go due to the coronavirus.
Many also are fearing how they are going to take care of their responsibilities such as home mortgages, rent, and paying the monthly car payment along with insurance.
With so much financial concern, two local financial institutions were extended an opportunity to share how they are conducting business with their customers and trying to relieve fears about their money and taking care of meeting financial responsibilities they have to the bank.
In today’s Elizabethton Star, Mr. Dale Fair, President and CEO of Bank of Tennessee and divisions including Carter County Bank and Mountain Community Bank, responds to questions presented by the Star.
On Wednesday, Teresa Arnold, President and CEO of Northeast Community Credit Union, will also respond to the questions as the Star seeks to help answer some financial questions many may have.
With the questions being critical, the answers provided to each will be given in their entirety from both Fair and Arnold.
With the COVID-19, what are you as a financial institution doing to make sure it can stay in business as usual for your customers?
The bottom line is the financial industry as a whole, and in our region, has been preparing for an event like this for years. Many years ago, banks were required to have Disaster Recovery Plans.
In the event of a fire, flood, electrical outage, etc. banks were required to establish a series of backup plans to recover from those types of events. Those plans were sufficient until the period of 9/11, Bird Flu, and Hurricane Katrina.
The financial sector realized it wasn’t enough for banks to get back up and running quickly. Instead, banks needed to continue financial services during the crisis. This became evident during Katrina when desperate citizens couldn’t access their money because bank buildings were either destroyed in the storm or inoperable because of loss of power and staff.
As an industry, we learned so much from that tragedy. So, since Katrina, that is what we have done. It’s a living, documented plan which means we discuss, document, test, plan, revise, all year long.
In addition to Business Continuity plans, banks have invested in digital banking services that allowed people to bank anywhere, anytime. This includes services like online banking, mobile apps, mobile deposit, online account opening, etc.
Not only did customers desire to have these services, but they also served as an important part of our Business Continuity plan. It’s an incredibly expensive investment, so some banks didn’t move to implement these digital services as quickly as others.
Carter County Bank has always been an early adopter of improvements and technology so our customers don’t have to come to the bank if they aren’t able.
Specifically related to the COVID-19 crisis, Carter County Bank’s plan was very detailed and was deployed in just a couple of days. We cross-trained employees to work in other areas.
We split up departments and many of us are working from home. We streamlined our internal processes to move things quicker. We diverted some customer traffic from our lobbies to digital banking channels, drive-thrus, and our Interactive Teller Machines.
These machines are ATMs and ITMs in one. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, you can touch the screen on the machine and work with a teller. We have a department of these specially trained tellers and they can do almost anything a Lobby Teller can do.
When we started implementing these machines in 2017, it was an important part of our Business Continuity plan. Not only is it playing an important part in the current environment, but it is an important part of our continued customer service during non-traditional banking hours.
2. How are your employees protecting against COVID-19 since they handle so many transactions? 
Many people don’t realize this, but money generally can have germs and bacteria on it. That is something our staff has always been aware of, especially during other times when other infectious diseases are going around our community.
The first step we took to protect customers and our employees, was to limit access to our branch lobbies. Many transactions can be serviced through the drive-thru, DRIVE THRU plus, on the phone, or using our digital banking channels.
We are following the recommendations of the CDC, which includes social distancing, frequent handwashing, disinfecting, etc.
3. COVID-19 is presenting a tough economic time with many losing their jobs. How is Carter County Bank handling customers who are having a hard time with mortgage and loan payments? 
Our mission is to “Improve the financial health and well-being of our customers and our communities.” 
In times like these, supporting each other is more important than ever. As the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis widens, we understand this can impact our customers and we want to help by offering qualified customers financial relief.
We set up a special area on our website that speaks to our consumer and business customers. Consumers can call us directly at 866-378-9500 or fill out a simple form located on our website. https://www.bankoftennessee.com/covid-19-financial-relief/
4. Is Carter County Bank doing any type of loans at this time or opening new accounts or are you just trying to take care of your current customer base? 
We are ready to service anyone in our community and their financial needs.
People can visit our website and open an account online without ever stepping foot in a bank branch. We have had that ability for several years.
Yes, we are still handling consumer loans and mortgages as well. Our Relationship Managers are working very hard right now to assist our current business customers with their specific situation, including applying for financial relief through the CARES Act.
We welcome the opportunity to talk to any potential customer about how we can help them.
5. With business being conducted mainly through the drive-through tellers, lines are getting longer for customers at various times. Is Carter County Bank looking at potentially extending hours to accommodate those who are having a long wait time? 
Carter County Bank already has extended hours in DRIVE THRU plus lanes. That’s a service we offer all the time.
You can drive up to an ATM/ITM (Interactive Teller Machine) and touch the screen to talk to one of our tellers Monday through Saturday from 7 a..m to 7 p.m. Every Carter County Bank branch has DRIVE THRU plus.
Customers can withdraw cash (including coin), deposit checks and cash, make loan payments, get online banking assistance, report a lost or stolen debit card, and much more.
Currently, our traditional drive-thru windows are open normal business hours. We are constantly evaluating our customers’ needs and are ready to adapt our current hours if needed.
6. Are customers showing a lot of concern about the COVID-19 and how their money is going to be impacted? 
Most of the concern we hear is related to their business or their job and how that could impact their financial situation. That is why we created resources on our website for our customers and our employees to access.
7. What would be your reassuring words to your customers during this pandemic
In a time racked with uncertainty, stress, and worry – we hope to convey a message that right now, the region’s financial industry is strong enough and prepared to handle the curveball that COVID-19 has thrown.
FDIC has expanded insurance coverage, Congress provided financial relief for businesses and individuals, and they are looking to the nation’s banks to deliver those services and resources to Americans.
We are up for the challenge! I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Banks will also suffer from the effects of the economic downturn and will have to pivot very quickly. But we have prepared from a planning standpoint and from a financial perspective.
This community has been through tough times before. Just like previous challenging times, we will work together and come out on the other side stronger. We are proud to be part of this community and to call Carter County home.
8. If the pandemic was to be an extended one, what are some concerns that you might have from the banking industry?
Just like previous challenging times in our county’s history, we can feel the rebirth of nationalism and community spirit.
Neighbors are helping neighbors. Small businesses are thinking on their feet and come up with new, creative ways to serve their customers.
The banking industry is in its best condition and position to do its part to help our country overcome this crisis. And beyond the end of this pandemic, the banking industry will lead the way to a quick and full recovery.

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