How banks are stepping up during the coronavirus pandemic

Baltimore Business Journal - 03/18/20 | Written by: Holden Wilen

Banks across Maryland are stepping up to help customers and communities as they deal with the impact of the novel coronavirus.

Businesses throughout the state are closed, and could soon struggle to pay their expenses because of COVID-19. Consumers may be missing out on paychecks and unable to make their mortgage payments. In light of those challenges, banks remain open and are using a variety of methods to assist customers, whether it's making a line of credit available or simply having a conversation.

"The Maryland banking industry’s first priority is to serve their customers," Kathleen Murphy, CEO of the Maryland Bankers Association, said in a statement. "Banks use a variety of methods to help customers on a case-by-case basis, as individual financial needs and circumstances vary. We strongly encourage customers to contact their banks today if they are impacted by the coronavirus health emergency and have financial concerns. We are in this together and banks are here to help."

With the widespread availability of online banking and mobile applications, people can also take advantage of services while practicing social distancing.

Truist Financial Corp., the bank formed by last year's merger of BB&T and SunTrust, said Tuesday it will provide payment relief assistance for clients on consumer loans, personal credit cards, business credit cards and business loans. Truist will also support the cash flow needs of retail and business clients with "a number of lending programs."

Charlotte-based Truist (NYSE: TFC) also said it is temporarily waiving ATM surcharge fees and providing 5% cash back for BB&T and SunTrust consumer credit card holders on purchases at grocery stores and pharmacies through April 15.

The bank also pledged $25 million in philanthropic support for basic needs, medical supplies and financial hardship across the nation. Johns Hopkins Medicine and the CDC Foundation will each receive $1 million through the Truist Charitable Fund. United Way organizations will also get $3 million.

The remaining funds will be distributed as grants to community organizations to "support and expand technology initiatives and programs for youth, seniors, small businesses and people to rebuild, restore and create thriving communities," according to a news release.

"Truist cares, and we understand our communities, clients and teammates all need immediate help in this growing crisis," CEO Kelly King said in a statement. "We're also looking forward to the recovery stages of this pandemic to ensure the nonprofit organizations our communities count on have the funding they need to help our neighbors get back on solid footing."

Patty Tuttle, the regional president in Maryland for San Francisco-based Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), said the bank is already gearing up to help clients.

"For our business owners this can be a impactful time for them, and that’s probably an understatement," Tuttle said. "We're excited about the resources we've got to help support them."

Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest bank in Greater Baltimore with $7.05 billion in local deposits as of June, is offering various credit products such as short-term loans and lines of credit. The bank is also being lenient about fees and providing payment relief. Tuttle encouraged customers to contact their banker or to call the local branch.

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on banks too with the economy suffering. The Federal Reserve took its benchmark interest rate down to zero, which will put more pressure on interest rate spreads. The Fed is also making several of its tools available to banks so they have access to cash to help the economy stay afloat.

Tuttle said she's not worried about the challenges — she's concentrating on supporting customers.

"Any business in our industry will feel an impact," Tuttle said. "We're not focusing on whether it’s hard to do business. We're trying to focus on taking care of the needs of our customers right now. We have people asking us about what to do with their money."

Buffalo, New York-based M&T Bank (NYSE: MTB), the second-largest bank in Baltimore with $14.4 billion in local deposits, is also working with its plethora of small business clients. M&T has led the region in small business lending for the last 12 years.

"If small-business clients are experiencing a financial hardship and would like to discuss loan extensions, alternative payment options, or their bank fees, we ask them to contact us directly," spokesman Scott Graham said. “We’re working to alleviate the difficulties our clients are experiencing due to COVID-19 – trying to be proactive by remaining in touch with them as this situation rapidly evolves."

Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank (NYSE: PNC) is waiving or refunding fees associated with deposit accounts or lending products, including credit cards and mortgages, spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said. The bank also has a "variety of programs" available for customers who are concerned about making consumer or business loan, credit card or mortgage payments.

"Additionally, we are offering an emergency hardship loan available for qualified consumer customers and employees, as well as a small business term loan, to help those who may need access to additional funds at a low rate," Zwiebel said. "We hope that our consumer and small business customers who require assistance during this difficult time will reach out to us so that we can determine how best to help."

Mary Ann Scully, CEO of Howard Bank (NASDAQ: HBMD), encouraged people to use online banking tools. Three of its branches — in Annapolis, Columbia, and Remington — are temporarily closed. Several branches are open with drive-thru service only:

  • Aberdeen
  • Centennial
  • Dundalk
  • Glen Burnie
  • Owings Mills
  • Parkville
  • Rising Sun
  • Timonium
  • White Marsh

Howard Bank is providing "call-ahead banking" at its branches in Bel Air, Canton, and Snowden River.

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