In the early days of the pandemic, Evan Elder assembled his branch team to hit the phones, but this would be no routine sales call.
Elder, a retail market manager with the $48 billion-asset Synovus Financial, had pulled together a list of deposit accounts at his Athens, Ga., branch that didn’t have debit cards associated with them. Tellers offered more than 1,000 customers a debit card so they could withdraw cash from ATMs in lieu of visiting the branch — and about 300 customers took them up on it.
“We had great success calling,” he said. “We came up with a script, making sure people know we’re not trying to sell you on anything, and we want to make sure that with these times that we’re in, you can bank as efficiently as possible.”
Elder’s story is one example of how front-line bankers, often overlooked in narratives about essential workers, are adapting to challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis. They’re working long hours to process emergency-relief loans for small businesses, and they’re coaching customers by phone as many of them navigate online or mobile banking for the first time. They’re making house calls for elderly customers afraid to venture outside, and easing fears about the soundness of the banking system and availability of cash.
Nervous customers started showing up at the outset of the crisis to withdraw large sums, several bankers said.
“There was an initial run for cash. People were wanting to just take out their money and put it under their mattress or something,” said Eustaquio Paco Martinez, who manages the Hutto, Tex., branch of the $129 billion-asset Regions Financial. “There was really no rhyme or reason to it. They were concerned the banks might go under, and that surprised me at first. Once we put their mind at ease, a lot of those cash runs have gone away.”
Zach Turner, who manages Regions’ Ooltewah, Tenn., branch, said many of his customers pay their utility bills in cash. Several weeks into the pandemic, many of those companies stopped accepting cash payments, forcing some customers to return to the bank for a money order. Turner said his bankers made sure to warn others who might run into the same problem.
“We were able to spread the word to other customers so they didn’t experience the same thing, hitting that roadblock and having to make another trip back and…