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Lessons Learned from Banking Experts on Weathering the COVID-19 Crisis

F Hamlin 2014
Frank H. Hamlin, III
President and CEO
[email protected]
(585) 394-4260 x
M Pedzich 2014
Michelle Pedzich
Senior Vice President, Human Resources
[email protected]
(585) 394-4260 x36161

Published on May 6, 2020 in the Rochester Business Journal

In our 133-year history, Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Co. has weathered many humanitarian and financial crises, including world wars, the Great Depression, and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Our focus on serving the needs of our customers and our communities has always been at the forefront of our decision making. For example, we can reflect on the lessons we learned after the stock market crash in October of 1929, where there was a wave of banking panics or “bank runs.” Large numbers of anxious customers during that time period were withdrawing their deposits in cash, forcing banks to liquidate loans and often leading to bank failure. In 1931, in order to reassure our community, one million dollars was stacked behind the teller cages near the window for our community to see, in response to a report that there would be a run on our bank. This bold act, meant to show strength and confidence in our own financial institution, drew a crowd of community members who wanted a glimpse of a million dollars. As the weeks progressed and our customers were reassured, the loss of deposits from customers who had withdrawn money was fully recovered. The importance of demonstrating strength and calm, as well as providing reassurance to both our communities and our employees, is just one of many lessons we have learned as we have navigated through stormy moments in history, including the current COVID-19 crisis. Other lessons we have learned include:

Frequent, honest and compassionate communication is critical in times of crisis. Employees and our community members crave support, safety and connection in these uncertain times. Providing up-to-date, reliable information on current events makes a huge difference in calming fears and ensuring employees remain engaged. We have learned that our employees trust what we communicate to them more than the information they receive from other sources. As one of our employees recently stated, “the daily communications we receive and the weekly virtual town hall meetings with our CEO make me feel safe and more connected to CNB, now, more than ever.”

Managing stress is extremely important during these tough times. A recent survey of our employees showed that the top three sources of stress related to the coronavirus pandemic were work, fear of exposure to COVID-19 and family challenges, including managing young children at home and handling eldercare issues. In response, we have ensured employees can receive counseling through our Employee Assistance Program, we have provided flexible work schedules and we reassured our employees they will continue to receive full pay no matter what circumstances they are experiencing. We have also partnered with a local farm to provide our employees with an online farmer’s market so they may obtain groceries in a safe manner. We have learned these simple gestures of care are both strengthening our corporate culture and reducing employee stress.

Going above and beyond for your community does make a difference. As COVID-19 started to spread in our communities, CNB, like so many others, immediately doubled our contributions to food cupboards, shelters and other nonprofit organizations that offer emergency relief. We have learned that our employees will perform countless acts of kindness toward one another when our community is in need. Examples include employees sewing masks for friends and family, delivering Meals on Wheels and, despite working remotely, continuing to contribute to our Casual Blue program, which allows employees to wear jeans on Fridays for a small contribution to a designated charity.

In addition, we were able to reassign 20% of our workforce to support our lending teams to get $289 million dollars into the hands of our local community in 16 days through the SBA’s Payroll Protection Program (PPP) first round of funding. Supporting our communities is personal to our employees. As one employee recently stated, “These loans we are providing are helping to feed and care for our neighbors, friends, and families. Real people we know in our local communities. Thank you for giving me a chance to help make a difference.”

Crisis can accelerate business transformation. We have also learned that emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic can jumpstart the pace of change. In just three weeks, we increased remote access for employees from 34% to 75% without experiencing any loss in productivity or decrease in employee engagement. We will use the lessons we are learning from this remote work experiment to help us redesign how our workforce will operate in the future.

We will continue to use the lessons we have learned from the past to navigate through these unprecedented times. History has shown us that we can not only survive but thrive through humanitarian and financial disasters. We will continue to be there for the communities in which we live, work, and play. Stay strong; we can weather this crisis together.

To see this column in the RBJ, click here.