In a crisis such as the one the U.S. has experienced over the past months, small businesses are among those most negatively impacted. They often have the fewest resources, like cash flow and capital, upon which to draw in any economic freefall. Their hold on survival is often the most tenuous, their life expectancy in a crisis the briefest. COVID-19 has heaped additional harm on these small enterprises, because many were forced to close during the lockdown. And just as many were reopening, some were hurt by episodes of civil unrest.
In any financial crisis, owners of small businesses depend for stability, and often their very continuance, on the assistance community banks are uniquely able to offer. Community banks are based in the same towns and cities as the small businesses they serve. They get to know business owners in a way other financial institutions can't. In some cases, they know those owners so well they can anticipate their most pressing needs during a crisis.
One community banking institution – Oak Brook, Ill.-based Leaders Bank – helped its small business customers weather the storm unleashed by the pandemic in a big way. The assistance the bank provided came through three critical initiatives: Provision of remote banking services, aid in accessing state and federal financial assistance programs and guidance in identifying and avoiding pandemic-fueled scams and frauds.
Safe, secure remote banking
Leaders Bank's array of online, mobile and phone banking services has made it possible for those who wished to avoid physical interaction to do so. "Any customer has the option to use online banking or mobile deposit services with the bank," says Gina R. Phipps, the bank's vice president, treasury management, who notes the bank has "definitely" seen a surge in remote banking use. "[Customers] can sign up online and automatically enroll . . . At least 90 percent of our customers use some form of electronic banking."
Some Leaders Bank customers had long shown a preference for visiting the bank in person almost every business day. Even they are now using remote banking, Phipps says.
In addition, the bank went to extra lengths to protect those who chose to physically visit the institution, and to simultaneously safeguard the health of bank employees.
Plexiglas shields divide the reception area from the tellers. Hand sanitizers are available to all. The staff wears cloth masks. Janitors sanitize door handles and other surfaces every hour, and undertake a deep cleaning each weekend. To limit exposure, Leaders Bank encouraged employees to work from home a few days a week.
When the federal government announced small business assistance through the CARES Act's Paycheck Protection Program, Leaders Bank did not wait for small enterprises to request aid. "We were collecting information from clients before the program even became available," Phipps says. "We were reaching out to customers to see if they needed help. We collected information [from the businesses] so we were ready to submit applications to the Small Business Administration (SBA) when the program became available.
"The bank understood what information the SBA required and worked with its customers to ensure they furnished those materials. As a result, 100 percent of qualified small businesses that applied for the Paycheck Protection Program through Leaders Bank were approved.
"Now we are keeping in contact with those customers as new information regarding their loan forgiveness becomes available," says Charles B. Hall, Leaders Bank executive vice president. "Customers are not in this alone. We will help them navigate this uncertain landscape."
Scams are a concern to small businesses in every economic climate. But evidence shows crises like the pandemic bring fraudsters out in even greater numbers. Fraud protection services routinely provided by Leaders Bank are even more valuable in these times.
"Today's environment presents greater challenges," Phipps says. "Customers click on the wrong item in an email, or they get spam and risk a computer takeover. Fraud is everywhere, all the time."
The bank helps its small business customers by monitoring accounts, employing services like positive pay, ACH filters and IP restrictions on log-ins from unauthorized computers, Phipps says. It also uses multiple-factor authentication and a token or app on a phone that can help the bank confirm the customer is who he or she purports to be.
In time, COVID-19 and its associated financial emergency will subside, and life will return to a new normal. When it does, small businesses that managed to carry on will know their partners at community banks nationwide are always there for their customers, even in critical times.
Located at 2001 York Road in Oak Brook, The Leaders Bank is a premier community commercial bank catering to private business owners, their families and other entrepreneurs. The Leaders Bank offers a full spectrum of traditional and customized banking services, Internet-based banking, and online bill payment. To contact The Leaders Bank, call (630) 572-5323 or visit www.leadersbank.com.