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More About How Your Bank Can Help in Times of Disaster

More About How Your Bank Can Help
in Times of Disaster

Two groups of financial institutions will want to evaluate actions they should take in the wake of a catastrophic event:

  • those whose facilities or customers have been directly impacted; and
  • those not directly affected who may need to educate and reassure customers.

    If your customers are directly affected, they will have immediate financial needs and concerns. If your customers are not directly affected, they may still suffer from anxiety and uncertainty. In both situations, your bank is in a position to help.

    If your institution or your customers have been affected:
    Look to resources such as the online Disaster Recovery Guide to Financial Issues from the Red Cross, AICPA Foundation and NEFE. It is a booklet designed to help individuals regain a sense of financial balance in the days, weeks and months following a disaster by following specific steps for recovery. Help get it into the hands of your customers by putting a link on your Web site, or providing reprints.

    There are additional actions your institution can take, as outlined by BOL Guru Dorothy Gray of Oklahoma City-based Data Control Specialists.
    • Let customers know the status of your ATM machines and what procedure should be used to quickly obtain cash.
    • Direct customers to call centers and staff them with extra personnel, if necessary. Dorothy says that one bank she works with experienced very little branch traffic, but extremely heavy call center use in the aftermath of a recent disaster.
    • Inform customers that records of loans, insurance policies, securities, and checking accounts are available, as well as copies of signature cards. All bank records, in other words, are safely stored in some manner.
    • Provide information on how to retrieve important documents, for instance, birth certificates, Social Security cards, drivers licenses or state identification cards. This type of handout would be useful in any instance where a customer has lost these crucial papers, whether through theft, fire, or other tragedy. The resources below can be used for researching the contact information necessary for such a handout.
    • Offer assistance, if feasible, in obtaining and completing those intimidating government loan and grant applications.
    • Advertise low interest disaster recovery loans if you plan to offer such means of assistance.
    • Consider deferring payments on loans for affected persons.

    If your institution has had to close certain locations, or relocate, use the local news media to get the word out to customers about how to find you. If your hours are changed, communicate that as well.

    To proactively educate and reassure customers:
    If your institution and its customers were not among those afflicted by the disaster, the media coverage may be causing customers to think and wonder "What if?" and that makes it a great time to communicate both the preparations you have made for business continuity, as well as helpful suggestions for what customers themselves should do as a precautionary measure for their own financial continuity purposes.

    • It's a good time to stress to customers that the contents of safe deposit boxes are not covered by the bank's insurance (and certainly not by FDIC deposit insurance coverage.) The bank doesn't even know what the contents are! Customers should be urged to insure the contents of their boxes. Even with a watertight seal on the vault door, flood waters have been known to seep through the electrical conduit.
    • Any documents, stamps, photos, or other safe deposit box contents that could be damaged by water should be stored inside double ziplocked plastic bags. If the customer is already using this form of protection, it's a good time for him to check and make sure the bags are sealed properly.
    • If there is adequate warning of an approaching disaster and the customer has valuable, possibly irreplaceable, property in a safe deposit box, the customer should remove the property from the box and take it to an area believed to be out of harm's way.
    • Customers should create a financial cheat sheet to keep with them at all times. [Here's the dilemma: you want to be prepared in the event of an emergency. On the other hand, you don't want to be walking around with a blueprint to stealing your identity in your pocket. One solution is to use the invisible ink and UV pen to record the data in BOL's Digital Register. Another idea is to simply encode it with a code you will remember and understand, but that will be inscrutable to an outsider.] The cheat sheet should contain all account numbers (deposit accounts, loans, credit cards, ATM cards, debit cards), phone numbers, and other details that may be needed.

    Additionally, BOL Guru Dorothy Gray advises:

    • Let customers know when there's a contingency plan in place. They'll feel more at ease if they realize you're on top of the situation as far as an alternate location, contact numbers, etc. are concerned.
    • Be sure customers are aware of your call center numbers and what services the center is prepared to provide.
    • Encourage the use of safe deposit boxes for valuable documents and records.
    • Consider supplying information about any state or federal regulations governing disaster recovery. It will drive home the point that banks, more than most other types of businesses, are constantly striving to meet depositors' needs.
    • Advise customers that if check books, debit or credit cards, passbooks, and the like become lost, those accounts should be reopened under new numbers.

    After a storm like Hurricane Katrina, it's not business as usual for anyone. Customers have questions. They have needs. You can help.

    Red Cross: Financial Planning; A Guide for Disaster Preparedness -- This covers much more than financial stuff. A good list of what to do to be prepared.


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    First published on 8/31/05

  • First published on 08/31/2005

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